Jon Meyers, manager of operations at Salubrious Wellness Clinic (SWC), stands in front of the admissions window at SWC, a medical dispensary in Tempe, Ariz., designed by Paul Basile.
All Photos: © Brandon Tigrett

We’ve all been there: After checking in at the counter and flashing our IDs, we take a seat and wait. Cameras are angled to cover all corners of the room, watching our every movement. A clerk calls our name, and we move into the back room, where that same person hovers over us while we acquire what we came for.

This is the process for checking into your security deposit box at the bank, but we won’t fault you for thinking this described a typical dispensary experience.

Paul Basile, owner and principal at BASILE Studio, a custom-design workshop in San Diego, Calif., doesn’t think that is the optimal dispensary customer experience. When he was approached by Columbia Care (an East Coast-based, vertically integrated cannabis company) to design its new medical dispensary in Tempe, Ariz.—Salubrious Wellness Clinic—Basile relished the opportunity to create a different kind of customer experience.

“We thought, ‘What if we could [design] … a place [where] you want to hang out instead of a place you go and get flower? A place to spend a little time, get educated, understand the products?’” Basile says. Basile’s idea was to create a warm and welcoming experience by integrating security features into the design, and make the customer more at ease by normalizing the purchasing experience.

Wait in Peace

Salubrious Wellness Clinic (SWC) is BASILE Studio’s first completed dispensary project. (The company was first contracted to design another dispensary for Columbia Care in San Diego, but regulatory delays pushed back that project.) Nearly everything in the dispensary was custom built at Basile’s San Diego workshop, shipped to Tempe and assembled on-site.

“We tried really hard to hide as much of the security aspects of it is possible,” Basile explains. For example, the doors to the man-trap (the chamber between the doors that separates the waiting room from the dispensary) are timed to unlock in such a way that customers never feel trapped in an enclosed space. When the first door shuts behind the customer and she walks across the 5-foot corridor to the next door, that second door automatically unlocks, enabling her to walk right into the retail area. “That way, you don’t even notice,” Basile says. “You just kind of are like, ‘Why am I walking through two doors?’”

The dispensary’s integrated security features don’t start at the man-trap, however. Its waiting room is a differentiator for SWC on its own. Live trees line the center of the room, illuminated by grow lights. Benches are positioned on either side of the trees, and art lines the walls.

“It’s really hot in Arizona. Like, really hot,” Basile says. By creating this large waiting area, “your waiting experience hasn’t become like a big queue out the door, which is what everybody’s used to seeing. People kind of wait outside the building, sweating a bath, getting ready to get inside. … It’s supposed to be this welcoming thing, so you can wait in peace as opposed to sweating bullets out there.”

LEFT: Jon Meyers, SWC’s manager of operations, demonstrates the ease with which employees can open the security displays. RIGHT: Basile constructed the man-trap, as well as all other custom components featured at SWC, in his San Diego workshop.

Integrated Security

Once customers are inside the retail space, they’re presented with the store’s open-concept design and use of natural materials. The vaulted wood ceiling and other wooden displays (mostly crafted from birch) are oiled to a warm sheen. Steel components are waxed and glisten in the light, while concrete blocks are left exposed to flaunt the building’s natural finishes.

“We have a belief that you should listen to what the building wants and let that dictate what it should be. If there are really beautiful ceilings or walls … those are what we consider free finishes. If you dress them up and put the right textures and materials next to them, they become a little bit more interesting,” Basile says.

Customers won’t encounter safes or locked-and-gated storage shelves. Whereas many dispensaries might keep, or be required to keep, flower products under lock-and-key, or even in a back-room vault, SWC keeps a lot of its product behind the sales counter. During the day, drawers with different products fill the wall behind the point-of-sale (POS) counter as large, box-shaped displays sit above them. At night, those displays, which consist of security glass framed by steel, get lowered in front of the drawers and are locked to the floor, ensuring thieves won’t be able to access product in the event of a break-in. The displays are counter-balanced so that any dispensary employee can easily lift and lower them.

Concentrates are displayed in lighted cases in the middle of the floor and act as a focal point. Customers can read information cards about various products and need only to ask a budtender if they want a closer look.

“The concentrates were really a fun detail,” Basile says. Electricity is obviously needed to power the lights, but it is also needed to lift the display lid. The acrylic case wraps around the display and rises at the turn of a key, allowing budtenders to walk customers through the different products. “We chiseled and rounded out the wood, so the electric actuator is inside [the display case]. That lifts the entire glass portion of it.”

While Basile didn’t want the dispensary to feel like a bank’s security deposit vault, there is one banking feature integrated into the design: pneumatic tubes.

SWC offers online ordering and express-checkout. The express-checkout counter is located opposite the regular POS counter. Basile didn’t want to have the express-counter budtenders run to the vault every time a customer arrived to snatch their express order, nor did Columbia Care want to keep potentially dozens of express orders in the open. BASILE Studio came up with a clever solution. “Our idea was that we put those old bank tubes in so [the budtenders] can just push a call button, and somebody [from the vault] sends over the package that was pre-ordered and then [the budtenders] don’t have to leave their desk.”

The Jane Diffuser, a custom-built feature at SWC, offers customers the chance to explore and smell different cultivars.

Changing the Customer Experience

Basile’s cleverest design feature, however, is the Jane Diffuser: a display case that allows customers to take a close look at, and even smell, different flower products.

“That was something that we came up with because we thought if we can get the flower out on the floor where people can smell it and look at it and check it out … they can go [at] their own speed and take their time,” Basile details.

Thirty steel rods tipped with spherical containers sit between the two concentrate displays. Each orb contains a different cannabis flower variety. Turning a knob on its side exposes small holes through which customers can take a whiff and discover if the product matches their taste without having to ask an already-busy budtender.

“Since they are safe and secure to ensure patients cannot directly access the flower, the diffusers allow patients to discover the quality and aroma of our flower at their leisure,” says Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care LLC. “The unique design also keeps the flower fresh and protected, maintaining the high quality of our products.”Corporate officials at Columbia Care were a bit hesitant about BASILE Studio’s designs at first, but they have come around to them.

“Our patients have been very complimentary,” Vita says. “They appreciate the clear and intuitive layout, which allows for customized patient interaction with our highly qualified staff to [ensure] each experience is positive, and patients leave feeling well informed and comfortable with their treatment regimens.

“Because ultimately this is not about a transaction,” Vita continues. “It is about patients living a better life by gaining access to high-quality medications.”

As for Basile, he’s already been hired to design another one of Columbia Care’s facilities—this time in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Brian MacIver is the associate editor of Cannabis Dispensary.