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Forest Grove's first marijuana store draws 'phenomenal support' from grateful customers

NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: TRAVIS LOOSE - Budtender Chris Abrahamsen works behind the counter at Shango on Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove's first marijuana retailer. It’s almost like entering a dentist’s office.

Well-lit and clean, with leather chairs, gleaming glass display cases and classic rock music playing quietly through the sound system, Forest Grove’s first marijuana store is a world away from the stereotypical back-alley drug deals portrayed on TV and in movies.

An enclosed foyer greets anyone who steps through the front door. From there, a clerk asks for identification — a driver’s license, passport, or ID card — through a small security window before buzzing people in through the door to the main sales area.

Since it opened March 12 at 3821 Pacific Ave., just east of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Shango has received mixed reactions from the community (see sidebar, page A10) but “overwhelming, phenomenal support” from customers, said owner Adrian Perte, a longtime auto mechanic who opened a Hillsboro Shango in July.

Last Thursday, for example, a grateful Forest Grove resident surprised the on-duty Shango crew with two pizzas. Another customer brought free food as a “thank you” just after the store’s opening day.

That man had talked with Perte about marijuana options that don’t require smoking. He was suffering severe back pain and wanted relief, but the taste of marijuana made him gag.

Perte helped connect the man to Oregon Health Authority staff, who diagnosed him and authorized an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card so he could use the cannabinoid tinctures and deodorant-like rub-on cannabinoid sticks that are available only to medical marijuana patients.

Most of the customers at Perte’s new store are western Washington County residents — 60 to 70 percent, he said, including 48 percent just from Cornelius and Forest Grove — who were driving to his Hillsboro Shango on Highway 8 at 17th Avenue.NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: TRAVIS LOOSE - Shango General Manager Vivian Sayborivong (left) and Abrahamsen help customer Demi Piatt of Gaston make her cannabis selection on March 24.

The Hillsboro store began selling medical marijuana last July, he said, and on Oct. 1, when recreational sales were first permitted, 2,100 customers passed through in a single day.

About the same time he was opening that store in July, Perte and some family members bought property in Forest Grove.Two months later they decided to turn it into Shango II.

Far fewer customers passed through the Forest Grove store’s opening day.

“It was nothing like October,” Perte said. “That excitement has died down.”

Still, the new Shango has seen between 150 to 250 customers per day, from Starbucks managers to city employees and everything in between.

“Everyone is really nice and friendly in Forest Grove,” said Shango budtender Chris Abrahamsen, who expected stronger opposition to Shango’s arrival. “The propaganda machine is a little stronger in rural areas where people can be a little more traditional — a little less adaptive to change.”

So when a former Forest Grove police officer came into the store a few days after they first opened and told Abrahamsen that he was glad to see the cannabis industry being handled in a legal and responsible way, Abrahamsen was admittedly surprised. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - To help prospective customers make their choices, Shango displays a variety of cannabis types in glass containers that also show each types scientific/medical properties and unique name.

If customers are 21 and can provide a valid ID, Shango will sell to them.

Compared to the Hillsboro store’s younger demographic, the Forest Grove patrons are more middle-aged, Perte said, but the genders are pretty evenly balanced and people’s marijuana savvy ranges from novice to expert.

Gaston resident Demi Piatt, 24, said she’s smoked marijuana for the past five years to help her sleep and relax after work. Now that marijuana is legal, Piatt thinks it’s great she won’t be treated like a criminal when she talks about smoking.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Shango owner Adrian Perte always wanted to be a mechanic, and he spent 16 years working his way to ownership of Hillsboro Body & Paint on River Road. But when medical marijuana took off as an industry, Perte started paying attention.

“Just like alcohol, you’ve got to be responsible and follow the rules,” said Piatt, an assistant manager at a Starbucks in Hillsboro. “It’s better than a lot of the pharmaceuticals you could use ... people shouldn’t fear what they don’t understand.”

At any given time, Perte carries 17 to 25 different strains of marijuana flowers in the indica, sativa or hybrid varieties for both recreational and medical users. He also carries medical user exclusives, such as cannabis edibles, shatters, tinctures and oils.

Perte estimates “recreational” customers outnumber his medical customers 70 to 30, though many of the recreational customers use their pot to address medical problems, from back pain to joint pain, insomnia and even psoriasis. It’s just that they don’t have medical marijuana cards.

Part of that likely has to do with the process of getting the OMMP card, Perte said. If getting the card was easier, Perte estimates medical users would make up about 95 percent of his business.

Perte can explain what each of his products are, how they work, and what the user can expect after ingestion.

Sativa types of marijuana, for example, give users a more alert, body high. While indica — or “in-da-couch,” as Perte colloquially refers to it — is more of a relaxing, sleep-inducing strain.

Perte also carries nine variations of cannabis products that don’t contain any THC (the psychoactive ingredient) and don’t cause any “high.” Those are solely available to medical marijuana card holders.

“We’re not just here to help people get high,” Perte said, “and we don’t want to push anything down anybody’s throat. It’s about education. Knowledge is power.”

To that end, he makes sure his 23 employees educate themselves so they can offer expertise to the customers.

Perte hopes those who oppose or are uncertain about legalized cannabis will come in and talk. Sometimes, he said, it’s just a matter of showing somebody something they’ve never seen before.

That’s just what Lauren Esleeck did last week. “I’ve never smoked it and I don’t really plan to,” the Forest Grove resident wrote on Facebook. “But I went in there and the guys working were awesome. They told me about all the different kinds of marijuana and benefits to certain ones. Pretty informative.”