Dispensary Design a Joint Effort at Urban Leaf

How Joseph and Shiran Abramov designed a state-licensed cannabis dispensary in Midtown — all on their own dime.

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Joseph Abramov opened his cannabis dispensary, Urban Leaf, last month in an unassuming 1,300-square-foot Midtown storefront formerly occupied by Murphy’s Pub at 977 Second Avenue. It’s one of 127 dispensaries now operating legally across New York state, with over 100 more on their way pending approval of their conditional adult-use retail dispensary license. 

The first thing to know about building out a dispensary in New York is there are a lot of rules, Abramov said. Most retail listings are immediately off the table because they are in buildings with federally insured mortgages, which bars businesses that are illegal in the eyes of the feds. Of the few that remain, you can rule out many more because they are too close to a school or a religious institution. 

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Once you do find a space, state-licensed dispensaries need to keep a lower profile, unlike illegal smokeshops that tend to announce themselves with giant cannabis leaf insignia emblazoned on the store’s facade and neon green signs. Legal dispensaries cannot display products in their windows and no logos are allowed outside their stores, according to regulations the state Office of Cannabis Management drew up two years ago.

Bearing all that in mind, Abramov’s biggest budget items were the store’s security cameras, a concrete basement vault with a door that cost a couple of thousand dollars, and a point-of-sale system designed by Dutchie, the official tech platform the state selected for dispensaries in New York.

The cameras are “the brains of the whole store,” Abramov said. And they point everywhere — one for every entrance and exit and one facing each cash register to “keep track of how much money the store makes.”

Next, Abramov outsourced the interior design of Urban Leaf to his wife, Shiran Abramov, since “she just has the touch for it,” he said. That’s where legal dispensaries tend to have a bit more freedom.

The couple chose wall coverings resembling swirly calacatta marble to run the length of the store, broken up by dark brown metallic panels behind the counter. 

Customers eyeing products — including cannabis flower, pre-rolls, edibles and more from growers in New York — can look overhead to spot a pair of chandeliers sourced from Flushing, Queens, that look like upside-down wedding cakes.

“We decided to put in the chandeliers to give it a little old-fashioned glam,” Abramov said. 

Products are displayed in two locked glass cases that light up. They came from Display Dispensary, a recent offshoot of the century-old mannequin manufacturer Econoco Corporation

A little entrepreneurial spirit helped Abramov find these products on a tight budget since “everything is funded from our own money,” he said. And dispensary owners have to be prepared to barter or else face markups those in the industry sometimes refer to as the “green tax.”

That includes the rent itself. The owner of the four-story building between East 51st and East 52nd streets listed the ground floor and lower-level retail space for about $71 per square foot. But when Abramov revealed his plans to open a cannabis dispensary, the landlord jacked up the price to $111 per square foot. 

But Abramov, who previously launched his own real estate company called Keter Management, took it in stride.

“I get it,” Abramov said. “If you put a cannabis tenant inside the property and you ever want to sell the building, people that are looking for financing — they can’t get financing because there’s a dispensary on the first floor.” 

All told, it cost about $250,000 to open Urban Leaf, according to Abramov. He’s hoping that it will be worth it and the shop will become a destination for commuters on their way to Grand Central Terminal.

Abigail Nehring can be reached at anehring@commercialobserver.com.