Smile Politely

Sunnyside’s budding cannabis business in Champaign

Since becoming the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis on January 1st of 2020, Illinois has gained a high amount of taxes from cannabis product sales, and Illinois residents have been able to enjoy legal cannabis for recreational use. 

Champaign-Urbana has a few options for purchasing cannabis at a retail location, and I’ve written about edibles you can buy in C-U here and here. I reached out to Sunnyside in Champaign to learn more about the shop, what products are popular, and what recommendations the dispensary manager has for C-U residents.

Nikki Haese, dispensary owner, stands in front of the exterior of Sunnyside Champaign is a small brick building with a bright orange sign reading Sunnyside. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Smile Politely: Hello! It is so nice to chat with you today. Can you please introduce yourself?

Nikki Haese: Hello, my name is Nikki Haese, and I’m the dispensary manager at the Sunnyside location in Champaign.

SP: How long have you worked at Sunnyside Champaign?

Haese: I have worked here for about a year, but I’ve been with the company for about three years.

SP: Where were you before you were here in Champaign?

Haese: I started with Cresco in Ohio in Wintersville before I moved here. 

SP: Of course, you like Champaign better, right?

Haese: Yeah, it’s definitely a different type of market. Here, we have recreational; whereas in Ohio, it is just medical at this time. So, recreational adds an extra element to the market: more things to learn and more things to do.

In the lobby of Sunnyside Champaign, there is a beige couch and two gray midcentury modern chairs facing a long, rectangular coffee table. There are cannabis product advertisements framed in poster frames on white walls. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: What is a day like for you at the dispensary?

Haese: A normal day is just interacting with staff and customers and patients alike. So, it means really being able to have conversations and chat about cannabis in general, making people feel empowered and educated about their purchases — and being comfortable using their cannabis products.

We deal with a multitude of things on a daily basis including product delivery, new products, and, of course, education and training for our staff.

SP: Sounds like a busy day. 

Haese: Absolutely. No day is the same.

SP: How many customers come in on a daily basis? Are some days busier than others?

Haese: Yeah, we definitely see an increase in volume as it pertains to the weekend. Friday and Saturday are typically our higher volume days. We see several hundred people a day, so it can get very busy. As holidays come around and people are traveling, we will see an uptick in business then.

SP: Are there certain times of the day that are busier than others?

Haese: Yeah, it seems to be around lunchtime, so noon to 2 p.m. Then, as businesses are closing, around 5 or 6 p.m., as that rush hour hits, and people are going home for the day.

In the interior of Sunnyside Champaign, there are several designated lines and circular markers on the ground for distancing. There are four customers, each with a different wellness advisor, at the counter purchasing or educating themselves on cannabis. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: Can you talk a bit about the demographic of your customers?

Haese: We have a wide variety; we have young and old. We’ve talked with several different types of people who come in with different conditions and things like that. Or just people who are curious about cannabis in general; we call those canna-curious. Or people who have been consuming cannabis for many years of their life and have that solid foundation, that solid knowledge base. It changes from transaction to transaction, based on a person’s intent for coming in and their education level.

SP: Can you talk about what’s popular for customers to purchase?

Haese: Flower is the most popular purchase — edibles being a close second. Flower and that inhalation aspect, and edibles with the injestion aspect. I think people will typically gravitate to those things because they are the most common, most talked about, and people have that past experience with those two variations.

Three brown glass jars are stacked in a miniature pyramid on a counter in Sunnyside Champaign. The background wall is orange with blurred posters. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: What recommendations would you give?

Haese: I think it really depends on your intent. Are you looking to use cannabis to help you sleep? Are you looking to use cannabis to help you get energy and get tasks done? I think it really depends on what that end goal is for the consumer. 

So if you’re looking for something to give you energy and get you going, a sativa product is going to be something that will be more beneficial for you, something that has the little zing to get you through the day.

An indica product is something that would help with relaxation at the end of the day, help you sleep, or even sleep through the night. Those are kind of the two main things that we see from people coming in, and then we have people who are just looking for that even keel, best of both worlds so to speak, and that would be a hybrid product.

SP: I imagine many readers are in the canna-curious category. What would you recommend for edibles?

Haese: For those looking to relax, I’d recommend Me Time blue raspberry gummies by Good News. For those wanting more energy, I would recommend the Friyay watermelon gummies.

At a brown wooden counter, there is a Sunnyside wellness advisor in a mask with an orange lanyard and a blonde topknot bun ready to serve customers. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: Can you give some tips for first time buyers?

Haese: Yeah, absolutely. Asking questions is really important to understanding — whatever method of consumption you use — how that’s going to interact with your body, particularly when it comes to edibles. Edibles are somewhere you want to start low and go slow. That’s the case for any cannabis consumption, so starting low and going slow, giving yourself the opportunity to see how it’s going to affect you and what those effects are. If you want to increase them, you can always take another dose or increase your usage, but you can’t go backwards, so start low and go slow. 

Ask a million questions if you have them. Don’t hesitate. Our wellness advisors at Sunnyside are definitely equipped to answer questions that pertain to dosing and effects of the product.

SP: That’s such a comfort to know it’s okay to ask questions.

Haese: Yeah, the fact that it’s just recently legal plays a factor in people’s comfort with it. A lot of consumers are fairly new to trying cannabis. They definitely aren’t comfortable asking questions or knowing how much knowledge is out there. They might not know what they can ask.

SP: Right, but hearing from the manager of our local cannabis shop that it’s okay to ask questions and that you’re encouraging customers to ask questions, it is so good to hear.

Haese: Absolutely.

A close up photograph shows several cannabis and CBD items for sale at Sunnyside in Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: Do you have recommendations on what customers need to bring? Things to do or not do in the store?

Haese: We wouldn’t want anyone to be taking photographs or videos inside, and that’s more for patients’ privacy, HIPAA rights.

For a recreational customer, they should write down some questions to ask. Also, they should track the items they’ve purchased before and how it effected them. That is really important, so the next time, they can tell us either, “This didn’t work; it gave me anxiety,” or “This worked really well; I slept through the night.” Tracking your purchases and effects is really beneficial. Also, customers need a valid ID to get into the store. You have to be 21.

For medical patients, they will need a medical ID and their secondary ID like a driver’s license or a state ID. 

SP: What has the business been like during the pandemic? Did you guys have to close at all?

Haese: We did not have to close. It has definitely shaped the way we do business at many levels. Of course, cleaning, sanitation, and following the CDC guidelines has been the forefront of what we do on a daily basis. Some major changes for us included employees having to wear a mask the entire time, all day, obviously. That online ordering piece, people being able to place the order online, making the process a little quicker, so people feel more comfortable and safe, you know, like with the CDC guidelines of being in a space for fifteen minutes or less.

SP: Can you talk about the taxes on cannabis products?

Haese: For medical patients, there is a 1% tax. For recreational, it does pertain to the amount of THC in the product.

SP: So, the more THC, the higher the tax?

Haese: Typically, yes.

SP: Can you talk about the parking for the shop? 

Haese: Recently, we opened up the other side of the building. So there’s a parking lot by where a former insurance company used to be, so we have now taken over that parking lot. So now, we do have a parking lot on either side of the dispensary, and we also have the shuttle to an overflow parking lot. Either lot is great for the customer. If we do have a full parking lot, we will encourage people to park in the overflow parking lot and use the shuttle to cross the street. We have priority available as well for medical patients to park at the dispensary.

A simple grayscale drawing highlights a new expanded parking to the left of Sunnyside Champaign which is orange in the center of two gray parking lots. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo from Sunnyside’s website.

SP: I didn’t know you had expanded your parking. That’s cool.

Haese: Yes, it’s pretty recent.

SP: Do you have any upcoming events? Does Sunnyside host any events?

Haese: In the world of COVID and the pandemic, we have seen a decrease in that, but as things open up and restrictions are lessening, we may see more of that. I will say that we do volunteer events in the community, and we try to get involved in that aspect as well. We like to provide support to the community that does so much for us.

SP: Nikki, thank you so much for chatting with me. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Haese: I would say not being afraid to ask questions is probably my biggest message. Feel comfortable educating yourself on cannabis in general and how different methods can work for you.

Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary
1704 S Neil St
9 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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