Call it a blunt ending, if you will: Longtime Halifax cannabis accessory store MaryJanes Smoke Shop is no more. As of April 13, the mural-adorned bud bazaar of Pizza Corner (1549 Grafton Street) has displayed a “For Rent” sign in its front window, and both the business’s website and telephone number are no longer active.
The bong and pipe shop had been a downtown Halifax staple since 1995—an institution popular enough, over its 29 years, to appear on sketch show This Hour Has 22 Minutes and spawn a clothing line. Its advertising approach made headlines—and attracted Halifax Regional Police’s attention—in 2018 after the store promised “free weed for a year” to four contest winners to celebrate Canada’s legalization of cannabis.
Speaking by phone with The Coast, MaryJanes owner Scott Doucette says dwindling product margins, two years of pandemic-related restrictions on small businesses and Canada’s ensuing recession have spelled the end for his longtime venture that started out of his Dartmouth apartment.
“We’re not a large company; we’re basically just a mom and pop shop,” he says. “Everything went online during COVID—that’s when this pretty much all started. A lot of sales are done online. We invested into online sales, but the price of shipping items [costs our customers] more than, say, Amazon. They can do way better deals.”
A history in hemp
A one-time professional snowboarder, Doucette launched MaryJanes in 1994 after returning to Halifax from British Columbia, where he says he’d taken on design work for eventual Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. More importantly to what would become his next career, he also formed a business friendship with “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery.
“I was doing what I called ‘Tupperware parties’ at the time,” he says. “And basically I was in an apartment and living in Dartmouth, and I'd have all my friends over… and we would try all these products that we got from Marc Emery, and that’s basically where MaryJanes started.”
His first brick-and-mortar shop was planned for what has since become Celtic Corner on Alderney Drive, but Doucette says there was no water in the unit at the time—and he couldn’t afford the cost to upgrade the building’s plumbing. Instead, he found a location at 1549 Grafton Street. It went on to last 28 years.
“It’s been an honour,” Doucette tells The Coast. “There’s been a lot of really good ups, and a lot of really good downs.”
At its most ubiquitous, MaryJanes operated a chain of four smoke shops: In Halifax, Lower Sackville, Sydney and St. John’s. As of last week, all of the shops are closed—a decision that Doucette says he’s wrestled with for the past year as he’s fought to make a go of things. He points to the difficulties small business owners all across Halifax are facing: In December, The Tare Shop closed its Halifax branch after going public with its financial difficulties. That same month, north end clothing designers Ana + Zac closed their Agricola Street shop and moved to Lunenburg. Two months earlier, Vandal Doughnuts closed up shop on Gottingen Street.
“In the past month alone, when I’ve mentioned to people in passing that we’re closing, I started hearing other people's stories,” Doucette tells The Coast. “The Maritimes are built on small businesses, and small businesses are dying.”
The Grafton Street building is owned by property manager John Kamoulakos, the namesake of the former Johnny K’s Donairs. It’s also listed for rent on Kijiji under Kamoulakos’s name. Speaking by phone with The Coast, Kamoulakos says that he hadn’t been receiving rent payments from MaryJanes “for awhile.” (Doucette says MaryJanes had been behind on rent by “a month.”)
Doucette pins MaryJanes’ misfortune on an “increasingly saturated market” and the Nova Scotia government’s decision to restrict cannabis sales to NSLCs instead of allowing private businesses to apply for a license.
“If we were allowed to sell cannabis, our doors would never have closed,” he tells The Coast. “I don't think it was fair for the government to seize control over the whole thing. I think that they should have allowed reputable business people that were already in the industry to flourish on this and have a chance with it.”