ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca’s first official cannabis dispensary looks destined for the heart of downtown, as Binghamton business owner William Durham is zeroing in on the former Trader K’s location on the Commons to set up shop, with the help of New York State.
Durham, originally from Brooklyn but who moved to Binghamton decades ago, secured one of three Cannabis Adult Use Recreational Dispensary (CAURD) licenses in the state’s Southern Tier, which includes Tompkins County. Durham previously owned a convenience store in Binghamton and currently owns and operates a construction company and a property investment company. The dispensary on the Commons will be called William Jane, though there is not an opening date yet set, and could eventually include art and music elements as well.
The lease for the space was finalized and signed this week, meaning the dispensary is theoretically cleared to open. Durham said he does not have a true opening date in mind yet, but he added that he wants to run some pop-up, temporary-style shops at the location before eventually pausing those so that he can fully prepare the space for opening. Those are all still under discussion though, he cautioned.
In accordance with the state’s intention to prioritize awarding retail licenses to those who have been impacted by drug laws, Durham does have a prior marijuana possession conviction, when he was “in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with a little pot in my pocket.” Once the state began moving toward legalizing cannabis and publishing licenses, Durham said that he and some friends started keeping their ears out for more updates on CAURD license applications so that they could be one of the early recipients.
“Coming from the neighborhoods that I’m from, I’ve been around it all my life,” Durham said. “Very acquainted to it, it’s a very profitable business.”
Durham will be working with state agencies like the Office of Cannabis Management and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, both of which are helping oversee and construct new cannabis retail locations. Most crucially, they are providing funding for build-outs, leasing and more to business owners who would otherwise be unable to afford either the construction costs or some operational costs (Durham didn’t want to say how much had been allotted to his business, but the full statewide fund is $200 million).
“I wouldn’t have an opportunity to get involved in this field, because it’s such an expensive business to get involved in,” Durham said. “So them, doing the social equity part of it, they pretty much went around to different places, different states, and got the information on what would help the social equity aspect of it, and they came up with their own conclusions of what they’re trying to do as far as that goes. I’m responsible for my personnel and my product, insurances and stuff. But for the most part, it’s a good program for someone like me.”
The state agencies are also acting as matchmakers, in a way, as they scout for locations in markets that would set up cannabis dispensary owners to be successful. Not shockingly, Ithaca made that list, and Trader K’s has been a dispensary target since at least late last year. The formerly used clothing store, owned by Jay and Karen Sciarrabba, closed in 2022 after 26 years on the Commons.
“My plan is to have a successful brand, and Ithaca just happens to be the best location I can think of,” Durham said, emphasizing that he wants to promote safety at the location and make sure everyone has a good time. “They did a pretty good job of vetting the neighborhoods, checking where a good location would be for a dispensary. It’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s a great community, laid-back people like myself, the atmosphere is perfect. […] It’s a very involved community when it comes to the cannabis world.”
Though he lives in Binghamton, Durham said he is familiar with Ithaca, as several close family friends work in the city and he recently toured the Commons as part of the introductory process as his location was being negotiated.
“It’s an hour away, but it’s a perfect location to do what I’m trying to do,” Durham said. “I’m a pretty mobile guy. That one-hour drive, that’s my best time to think.”
Durham said he wasn’t sure if other locations around Ithaca were examined for a potential dispensary location, as that was handled by state officials.
Challenge Workforce Solutions is the only Ithaca-based organization to have received a license, though the organization has not responded to several requests for details of its plans. Exscape Smoke Shop, which has a business location on the Commons as well as several others around central New York, also obtained a license but does not appear primed to open its own dispensary on the Commons.
According to City of Ithaca Deputy Director of Economic Development Tom Knipe, state law stipulates a 1,000-foot barrier between each dispensary, meaning Durham’s location will be the only one on the actual Commons. That should stem any concerns about the Commons being overtaken by cannabis dispensaries as the city navigates a rash of turnover downtown that looks like it will result in several new businesses on the Commons as 2023 continues. Knipe said the city won’t have much further comment until the building plans are solidified.
Knowing the average Ithacan’s affinity for cannabis, it seems likely the new dispensary will be very popular. Durham said he’s ready for the challenge, and that he even has some ideas for different programming as well, including everything from art exhibits and music shows. He also noted that he wants to hold a job fair at the location early on, and hopefully meet surrounding neighbors and business owners to try to jumpstart his integration into the community.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work to try to get where I’m at,” Durham said. “I’ve been working my behind off with a lot of great people behind the scenes for a long time. It’s just a real, real good blessing. I can’t wait to get to the entertainment part of it, because I really believe building this brand, there’s going to be a lot of art and entertainment involved in the cannabis world. […] I think it’ll be really fun to have a platform to give us a chance to put those two things together.”