By Vicki Wilson
Spend an evening at Paper & Leaf, Bainbridge’s first and only retail marijuana store, and you might come to think the “paper” in the name refers to a white paper…on cannabis, of course. “There’s so much science behind how different strains of marijuana make you feel,” said Steve Kessler, who could talk for hours on the subject.
He co-owns the shop with his partner, Brendan Hill. Both Hill and Kessler live on the island with their families, and they were friends before they were business partners. Prior to going into the cannabis trade, their professional experience tilted toward the creative.
Hill is the drummer and a founding member of the band Blues Traveler, while Kessler has been a professional photographer and filmmaker. (You may also know him as the “Brooklyn Dog Whisperer,” his dog-training alter ego.)
“Our artistic backgrounds influenced how we wanted the store to look and feel,” Hill said. “We wanted to create an environment [for selling cannabis] that felt familiar.” If you bought weed back in the ’70s, chances are it happened in your cool neighbor’s garage or in someone’s basement.
Purchasing cannabis at Paper & Leaf doesn’t feel anything like that. Instead, the ambiance there is something more akin to what you’d find at a Capitol Hill wine bar Edison lightbulbs hang from the ceiling while budtenders compare and contrast cannabis options over an artisanally crafted live-edge hardwood table. Repurposed wood-and-glass dioramas line the walls, beckoning you to take a closer look at what’s on display.
“We wanted our clientele to be able to walk right up and see the product. Our staff is well-versed in what our different offerings are. They know how to pair the product with the person, depending on the customer’s desired effects,” Hill said. For Kessler, an admitted “cannabis nerd,” knowing the product is a passion of his.
The night we stopped in, the store was holding its monthly Canna will soon allow him to officially speak to clients and customers about medical use. “Right now, I can help the 21-year-old who comes in to celebrate their birthday. But I have to be careful about the advice I give an 85-year-old who comes in because he’s having trouble sleeping. That will change when new rules go into effect in July,” Kessler said.
As for the NIMBYism that met some earlier proposals around an island pot shop, it’s mostly gone up in smoke. The store, located in a business park off of Day Road, is far enough from schools and playgrounds not to matter. And, as Hill and Kessler point out, islanders were Cannabis 101 workshop, where people (over 21, of course) can check out the store and learn more about what’s available. Kessler was clearly in his element.
“I’ve always loved studying lineages, talking about terpenes and cannabinoids,” Kessler said. Unlike Hill, who admits his own past experience with marijuana was as a “creative tool that allows you to get in the flow,” Kessler’s prior consumption has mostly been as a medical user. “I’ve had three major surgeries. I struggle with gastrointestinal issues.
I got a medical card and started using cannabis to help with my symptoms,” he said. His passion for the product and what it can do has led him to obtain a certification that overwhelmingly in favor of the initiative to legalize. “We love being here. Islanders are a wonderful, eclectic group of smart people. They voted 72 percent in favor of I-502. It’s the coolest place to live in Washington state,” Hill said, with a grin.
Kessler takes the long view. “Old Bainbridge and new Bainbridge support this. I knew if we did it right, we could be part of removing the stigma,” he said. “The range of people coming in is really surprising. The old hippies from 40 years ago are really psyched.” And not just to get high, but maybe to get a little relief from creaky knees or a wonky hip. Whatever the reason, Paper & Leaf is ready to roll with it.
School of smoke Paper & Leaf’s budtenders are knowlegeable about their product and are eager to help customers make the right choice.