Pietro DiFranco, the City Engineer for Willoughby Hills, announced plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Insa to go into the space of the old Friendly’s building at the Shoppes at Willoughby Hills.
Insa was founded in 2013 by Pete Gallagher & Pat Gottschlicht. According to the city, Insa meets all code requirements for doing business in Willoughby Hills. Insa currently operates dispensaries throughout Massachusetts.
For any modifications to the building, the company will need to obtain building permits from Lake County Building Department. Mayor Andy Gardner said that any changes to the exterior of a building or signs will require approvals from Willoughby Hills Planning Commission.
“It can take a few weeks to send in the drawings, have them reviewed by the Building Department and then reviewed, and approved by the Planning Commission,”Gardner said.
Insa’s first dispensary opened in early 2018. Gallagher stated that the wholesaler expanded to Pennsylvania in early 2018. Insa started operations in Florida earlier this year. The team plans to open its first stores in the Florida market late this summer or early autumn.
Sara Sullivan joined Insa last year as the director of store design and experience.
“She launched our store design and our flagship sore in Springfield, Mass., which is really going to be the blueprint for our retail concepts going forward, and what we’re going to be putting into the Ohio market,”Gallagher stated. “It’s been a market we’ve been excited about and we’ve been looking for an opportunity to get into that market, and we’ve been watching it closely.”
Insa applied to the state for a license in Ohio to open its first store at the Willoughby Hills marketplace. Gallagher stated that Insa expects to open in the late summer or early fall, subject to approvals by the state and local governments.
“We’re pushing forward as quickly as possible,”He said. “We have final construction plans we’re preparing and plan to submit to the municipality next week. We’re hoping to open as quickly as possible.”
Insa’s broker sent out multiple sites and the team searched for months for the right location, Sullivan said. When the Willoughby Hills location came across Insta’s plate, the Shoppes of Willoughby Hills felt like a good place.
“I thought it was a great center and we liked that it was free standing, out from the center,”He said. “It’s great visibility from the road and great proximity to the highway so that it’s easy to get to. Looking at the market, there wasn’t a lot of competition there that we felt like this was a really good place.”
Extensive surveys of the former Friendly’s building were conducted and drawings were able to be completed. Sullivan stated that permitting with the Building Department is the next step.
“We’ll be getting that in so we can get that reviewed,”He said. “We’ve already talked to people in the city just to get a preview of everything to make sure they were happy with what they were seeing. We anticipate going in for permits in the next week so that we can get feedback and get ready to get under construction.”
Gallagher stated that Insa has the management support necessary to ensure the success of the Ohio project. He also said that the team will invest a lot in making Willoughby Hills a world-class experience for people.
“We pride ourselves on building stores that draw people in from the surrounding communities and afar,”He said. “We have people who will drive, in Massachusetts, a couple of hours to visit our stores. It’s a comfortable environment, so it’s an opportunity for people to come and learn about cannabis, even in they’re not interested in purchasing that day.”
In an industry that’s been stigmatized for decades, a great deal of education is required, Gallagher said.
“People come in with the wrong perceptions for fears about how to use it,”He said. “We’re committed to spending as much time as a patient or customer needs in educating them on how to use our products safely and to improve their lives.”
At the time of Insa’s inception, Gallagher and his business partner were thinking it would be just a local business in western Massachusetts. Insa now employs 500 people in three states, and will soon be expanding to four states with Ohio.
“It’s been a ton of fun and it’s been great building a team, and working with talented people. The passion everyone brings to this business every day is infectious,”Gallagher said.