PEPPERELL — Nearly two years after they made their initial pitch to the Select Board, sisters-in-law Priyanka and Tejal Patel finally saw their dream made a reality as they opened Uma Flowers, Pepperell’s first recreational cannabis store last week.
With the snip of some novelty sized scissors and town officials — including Select Board Chair Margaret Scarsdale, Town Planner Jenny Gingras and Town Administrator Andrew MacLean, in attendance, Uma Flowers officially opened its doors Wednesday, Dec. 8, after a soft launch the Sunday before at 2 Tarbell St.
Customers will be able to purchase products online for the first six weeks of operation, after which they can purchase on-site as well.
“It’s a dream come true,” Priyanka Patel said. “We worked over two years on this project and it’s nice to see it come alive.”
“It feels like this was just meant to be,” Tejal Patel added.
While the journey began in earnest in 2019, the story of Uma Flowers goes back further. Before they pitched the idea to the town, the Patels were already working full-time in the field of public health.
Priyanka Patel served as a pharmacist for 10 years — with a dream to open up her own, independent pharmacy — while Tajel Patel has a master’s degree in public health and had worked in the health sector for five years.
Both gave up their careers to start something they believed in.
Priyanka Patel, her dream left on the back burner too long, saw an opportunity in the ever-growing cannabis industry. Tejal Patel, meanwhile, saw the dispensary as an opportunity to help others in her own, unique way.
“Running (a dispensary), more than any type of business, just made sense,” Priyanka Patel said. “I felt like there were a lot of similarities in operating a pharmacy and a dispensary and that’s really what motivated me to move on and join this new industry.”
“I felt this would be something where I can do what I like doing but also help people.”
“It was scary,” Tejal Patel said. “We’re new to this industry, so we didn’t know — we still don’t, fully — how everything would turn out in the long run. But hearing people’s stories, knowing that what we’re doing can help others always feels so rewarding.”
It was a long road for the two female co-founders, and one fairly unique to the male-dominated industry.
It was a learning process for the both of them as they worked tirelessly with the town to ensure everything was done by the book. They hit a few snags along the way, as well. “We told the town we were going to open in July,” Priyanka Patel said, but construction delays and supply chain shortages ultimately pushed them back.
In the end, however, the wait was worth it. And now, with their doors open, the Patels’ hope for Uma Flowers is to serve and educate the Pepperell community on marijuana and its potential uses for recreational and medicinal users.
“As a pharmacist, I dealt with all sorts of controlled substances and medications. And so, for me, cannabis is just that, it’s medicine,” Priyanka Patel said. She added that educating the community is “what we’re all about here at Uma Flowers.”
“We want to be a source for them, a place where people can feel comfortable coming in and asking questions,” she said.
Tejal wholeheartedly agreed. “We want to provide a safe space for anybody to come, whether they’re experienced and know exactly what they want or very new to this space and have a lot of questions.”
“There’s a sort of taboo and stigma around using cannabis, so I feel like addressing that is something else that’s been really important to us,” she said.
Both Priyanka and Tejal hope to go beyond the dispensary to aid the community as well. “Their goal is to educate, but also serve the community,” said Paula Slotkin of Slotkin Communications, a public relations firm that has aided the Patel sisters and Uma Flowers on their journey.
“(The community) has been great to them and they truly want to be a part of it.”
They started by donating $2,000 to PACH Outreach, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing food, personal care items, referrals and other resources to Pepperell and Dunstable residents in need. It’s just the beginning for the Patels.
“We want to be able to do things for the community beyond serving them as a dispensary, to have these initiatives like collecting toys around the holiday season or food to donate to the food pantry,” Priyanka Patel said. “We want to help the people however we can, that’s what really motivates us and drives us.”
“We don’t want them to see us as ‘just a pot shop,’” Tejal Patel said, “but a true part of the community. We’re not just here to do business.”
With one location ready to bloom, Pepperell is not the only part of Uma Flowers’s plans.
Priyanka and Tajel already have a plan and a host community agreement in hand for a second location in Lunenburg. The second location would cater to both and recreational use and medical sales. There, they hope to spread the same educational, pro-cannabis message.