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Fourth Recreational Marijuana Dispensary Opens In the Metro East

Customers inside Ascend's Fairview Heights dispensary approach the check out counter on March 25. The dispensary is the fourth in the Metro East.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Customers inside Ascend's Fairview Heights dispensary approach the checkout counter on Thursday. The dispensary is the fourth in the Metro East.

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — After more than a year of negotiations, Fairview Heights has a new recreational marijuana dispensary.

The dispensary is inside the former Babies R Us store off Illinois 159 in the city’s main shopping district. The company, Ascend, first indicated its desire for a location in Fairview Heights in 2019, but city leaders took their time deciding where the city’s lone dispensary would go.

“We wanted to take the learnings from other states and look at what other communities were doing in making our decisions,” said Mayor Mark Kupsky. “The most important thing was to make sure the location was in an area not close to schools, churches, homes, because of the concern some people might have.”

Kupsky said the city’s methodical approach gave officials time to consider specific zoning requirements and ensure any potential location could handle a large influx of traffic. Parking had been a major issue for Ascend’s Collinsville location in early 2020.

“This site provides the infrastructure to easily get people to the site,” Kupsky said. “It has plenty of parking.”

Ascend settled on the location after searching in the vicinity for more than a year, said Chief Revenue Officer Chris Melillo.

“We’ve looked at a couple of different locations, this one presented itself in a very positive way,” he said. “Beautiful building and great proximity to the roads so people can see that you’re here.”

Melillo said he hopes Ascend’s Fairview Heights location will perform as well as the company’s other local dispensary location in Collinsville. That store consistently sells more marijuana products than most other dispensaries in the state.

“We know that there is a growing demand here and it continues to grow at a very rapid pace,” he said. “Our job is to serve these consumers.”

This new store is larger than the one in Collinsville, Melillo said.

The dispensary represents a financial boon for Fairview Heights, which relies entirely on sales tax as its source of city revenue.

Kupsky estimates it could produce upward of $945,000 in sales tax for the city each year, which is about 10% of what the city already brings in.

“That will certainly go to make up the shortfall from declining retail sales as people move to online sales,” he said.

Kupsky said the money that Fairview Heights gets from the dispensary is allocated to go to the police pension fund, general fund and retiring long-term debt from the city’s recreation center.

For now, this will be the last dispensary that will open in the region until Illinois approves more cannabis business licenses.

The state was supposed to award 75 dispensary licenses last May, but officials have delayed their release after coming under fire for a lottery process that failed to allocate licenses to more people of color.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.