Setting the Standard for Medical Marijuana Environments

RPG’s design for Columbia Care’s medical Marijauna dispensaries have received much acclaim for their patient-centric environmental experience. Read what Avenue Magazine has to say about this unique business and design opportunity.

(Article reproduced by permission.)

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How Manhattan’s first medical marijuana dispensary came to be, and why it will be a tough act to follow.

The opportunity to bring something original to New York is quite rare. It is the city that sets trends more often than follows them. Barriers to enter any business are high: space is minimal, competitive ideas are abundant, and customers are discerning but easily distracted by the next big thing. Which is why when Governor Andrew Cuomo authorized a handful of licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries in New York in July 2015, the opportunity to be part of the team to bring the first one to market was like finding a unicorn.


Columbia Care, Manhattan’s first marijuana dispensary, opened its doors January 8 of this year. The current location in Union Square will serve as the New York–based company’s flagship store for additional dispensary and cultivation locations coming to other highly regulated markets throughout the United States. The company is helmed by two Upper East Siders, chairman Michael Abbott and CEO Nicholas Vita—both Goldman Sachs alumni and successful entrepreneurs. A quick glance on Columbia Care’s website will hint toward a point that a tour of the dispensary drives home: This company is on a mission to make medical marijuana readily available, at the highest standard the industry has seen yet. They have assembled a top-notch leadership team to wipe away any stigmatic impressions that people might have about medical marijuana—starting with the Union Square flagship.

One very important consulting expert for the project is Bruce E. Teitelbaum, whose company RPG is creating the national footprint for Columbia Care’s dispensaries. Teitelbaum’s company has designed retail environments and manufactured store fixtures for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Tiffany & Co., Swarovski, Birchbox and many more. When Abbott and his team received their license in August, they were intent upon being the first to market and set an ambitious opening date of January 8. Teitelbaum came in at the request of Abbott, a longtime family friend, who needed a concept, and needed it executed fast. Though Teitelbaum is a veteran in the retail-branding sphere by most measures, this was a definite first. “Even though we have worked in just about every category, this is not just out of the box; it did not previously exist,” says Teitelbaum. “So, what we’re doing is applying our discipline of branding, design, development, quality manufacturing and consumer engagement and experience all into one package.”

And with that in mind, they created Columbia Care in Union Square. Teitelbaum describes the flagship and prototype as “clean, organized and very comfortable.” He says, “We never forgot the words ‘compassionate care,’” referring to the so-named 2014 gubernatorial act that paved the way for legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries. The space is designed to be accessible and safe for the city’s direly ill who will utilize it. But they also wanted to make sure it didn’t appear sterile; it is in compliance with all health codes, while being aesthetically contemporary, with natural woods and high-tech features. The resulting space is warm and welcoming, can be navigated with comfort and ease, and feels neither like a sterile pharmacy or lab or a less stringently regulated dispensary that one might find in places like California or Colorado. The main lounge area integrates a friendly staff, videos and visuals on the walls, tablets loaded with information, and easy access to pharmacists for anything from a single question to a private consultation.

“Bruce and his team have worked tirelessly, with a condensed timeline, providing a safe, warm and inviting environment for some of the most critically ill New York citizens,” says Abbott of the now fully operational dispensary. And the two agree that reception by media, observers, government officials and—most important—patients has been exactly what they hoped it would be. “People walk in and say the same thing: It’s a contemporary environment that welcomes people, with the highest standard of care and education in a medical marijuana industry,” says Teitelbaum. “We’ve raised the bar.”


Bottom photo: Michael Abbott, Executive Chairman, Columbia Care, LLC; Nicholas Vita, Vice Chairman and CEO, Columbia Care, LLC; Bruce E. Teitelbaum, CEO, RPG