Father-and-son duo John and Mark Hillier, the director and chief operating officer, respectively, of Gage Cannabis Company in Ayer
Father-and-son duo John and Mark Hillier, the director and chief operating officer, respectively, of Gage Cannabis Company in Ayer (Jon Winkler)

AYER - Walking into the Gage Cannabis Company building at 38 Littleton Road, it's easy to think one would need a special reservation to be there.

The relaxed atmosphere of the lobby is complemented by the white stone floor at the front desk, the relaxed lighting, the clear glass display cases and the black hardwood floors at the two waiting rooms on the left and right side of the building.

It's similar to the lobby of a hotel or a spa, not much Ayer's first-ever marijuana retail store. But according to Chief Operating Officer Mark Hillier, that's the point.

"We wanted to make an interesting, comfortable space here," he said on Tuesday. "Something like an experimental retail store, more like a restaurant."

The main checkout area at the Gage Cannabis Company store in Ayer
The main checkout area at the Gage Cannabis Company store in Ayer (Jon Winkler)

It's actually a fitting description, considering the near 12,000 square-foot building where Gage Cannabis sits used to be the Mango Grill restaurant before the company bought the building in March of 2018.

Of course this isn't the company's first run at marijuana business as they also started and operate the Central Ave. Compassionate Care medical marijuana dispensary in Ayer.

John Hillier, Mark's father and president of the company, said on Tuesday that he approached Ayer with the idea of a marijuana dispensary back in 2013 and had town support from the beginning. He also noted how cooperative the company has been with the town and concerned residents.

"We've been fully transparent and want people to know what we're doing here," John said.


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"There were concerns when we first opened Central Ave.," Mark chimed in. "Now people have seen we did this once before so they're more comfortable with us doing it again."

Gage Cannabis actually offers service to both kinds of customers through the layout of its store. To the left of the front entrance is the Express Counter, where experienced cannabis consumers who ordered product online and are looking for a quick pick up. Those products include glass bongs, bowls for smoking, vaporizer cartridges and cannabis product.

One of the waiting rooms for customers looking to purchase marijuana products at the Gage Cannabis Company store in Ayer
One of the waiting rooms for customers looking to purchase marijuana products at the Gage Cannabis Company store in Ayer (Jon Winkler)

To the right is a waiting area, where four glass display cases will go showcasing more product Gage will offer ranging in price from $50 for one-eighth of a marijuana flower to $90 for a particular vaporizer cartridge.

Before customers go to the center checkout counters to complete their purchases with cash or debit cards, Gage will have about 50 staff members working full and part-time willing and able to answer any questions people might have whether their entirely new to the world of weed or experienced consumers looking to know what the company can offer.

The Gage Cannabis Company store that will sell recreational marijuana products in Ayer
The Gage Cannabis Company store that will sell recreational marijuana products in Ayer (Jon Winkler)

"Our staff will be ready to have meaningful, in-depth conversations about cannabis," Mark said. "We come from the medical world where we'd converse with people. We've been in Massachusetts for over five years and there are many new producers coming on to the scene. People on staff will distinguish quality and be passionate about the normalization of cannabis use. It can be fruitful for members of society."

"We've gotten a great sense of people here," John said, referencing the customers of Central Ave. "This unites all people with no stereotypes. You see someone who's 85 learning from someone who's 20 and vice-versa."

Behind the center checkout counters will be the store's inventory manager making sure each day is stocked with product and orders are properly fulfilled. The rear of the building, monitored by security staff that also oversee the rest of the store, still has the look of an abandoned kitchen of the former Mango Grill but John noted that the company is looking to build a processing center in that space. This center would create more product to sell in store. It's all a benefit of the location, John says.

"With the visibility and the size, we expect to be able to take care of people in a short time while also spending time to educate people," he said. "People are actually thanking us for offering this kind of help at Central Ave., which is refreshing to hear especially on a busy day."

Gage has been going through the ringer of state inspections and licensing processes from the state Cannabis Control Commission.

All that remains before officially opening is a final license from the state and hiring its staff. The company will host a job fair for interested potential employees aged 21 or over at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center on July 11 from 4 to 7 p.m.

The store's goal of normalizing cannabis use actually ties into its own name. Mark said that the term "gage" was actually slang for cannabis in the early 1900s when it was used more commonly.

"It's meant to represent where this should be without any negative connotation," he explained. "I like how this store represents a time when cannabis was better represented."

Jon Winkler: jwinkler@ nashobavalleyvoice.com