Even before the CNA stores opened, they were already helping the community. When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, resources became tight for many small organizations providing food to low-income households. CNA therefore took action.
First, they bought enough food to fill a 28-foot truck owned by partner organization Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, coordinating with Market Basket to get a discounted price. They then delivered the food to the community corner in Dorchester for distribution to families in need. Then they decided to develop the idea. They rented a refrigerated trailer to keep on their property and worked with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, which provided 1,000 cases of food a week. The demand for help was so high that CNA partnered with the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes and Veterans Northeast Outreach Center to get food to those in need.
In total, these operations distributed some 17,000 boxes of food, helping hundreds of families and organizations through unprecedented times. “As soon as the shutdowns started, we knew we had to do something to help,” says Robert DiFazio, co-founder and CEO of the community-minded cannabis company. “We don’t just work in these communities, we are part of them. »
CNA’s response to the pandemic is just one example of how this veteran-owned cannabis company puts community at the center of everything it does. The business started when DiFazio’s son, a recent college graduate, suggested his father look into the nascent cannabis industry. DiFazio, a Navy veteran with extensive data center experience, began investigating, becoming intrigued by both the business potential and the science involved. He decided to go there.
He opened the Haverhill store in late 2020 – his son is the manager – then quickly followed with the Amesbury site in January 2021. From the start, CNA Stores focused on building community, starting in first by its own employees, who, according to DiFazio, are the most essential people in the company.
“Our budtenders are the people who interact with our customers,” says DiFazio. “They are the most important people in our company.”
Employees are also an integral part of the company’s charitable efforts: since the start of the company, staff have contributed a total of approximately 1,000 hours of community service. Some participate in the company’s Snow Angels program, clearing snow from the homes of veterans and elderly or disabled residents of Haverhill and Amesbury.
The team is always looking for creative ways to give back to the community. Recently the CNA team was approached by the Amesbury Recreation Department to see if they could help with the construction of a kayak rack which will be placed at Lake Gardner in Amesbury. The department had obtained the money for the materials, but had no way to complete the construction. The AIIC team stepped in and made it possible.
“It was amazing how quickly our staff jumped on these things,” DiFazio says. “We’re trying to create this culture that gets people thinking about community service and wanting to do it.”
This attitude plays out daily in dispensaries. Near each box, a plastic jar waits to collect donations. Each month, the company supports a different charity — from a nonprofit raising money for childhood cancer to veterans’ aid groups — and encourages customers to drop a donation into the jar.
So far, this approach has raised $108,000 for charities supported by the company. And employees benefit too.
“At the end of the year, we tally up the amount of our donations, match that amount, and give it as a bonus to our budtenders,” says DiFazio.
In early 2022, the town of Amesbury decided to suspend its impact fees – payments that cannabis dispensaries are required to make to the town to help mitigate any negative effects the businesses might have on the community. Seeing no harmful impact needing attention, Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove opted not to collect the money. CNA Stores immediately took the funds set aside for the payment — more than $100,000 — and donated them to the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, an organization that works to end veteran homelessness.
However, CNA Stores’ work in the community does not mean that it is not focused on providing quality products and a welcoming experience to its customers. “We sell great weed,” says Scott Winters, Business Development Manager. “We also love what we do in this space.”
This positive attitude creates a warm and inclusive retail experience, says Winters. Guests are welcome regardless of their level of experience with cannabis, and the staff talks to them about their personal needs. When customers are looking for a product to help them with mental or physical health issues, highly trained employees work closely with them to help them find the strains and type of product that can best meet their needs.
“It’s not just about business, it’s about people,” says DiFazio.
CNA Stores offers one of the widest ranges of flowers, concentrates, tinctures and pre-packaged edibles in the region. It’s also the only dispensary in the Massachusetts North Shore area to also offer what it calls a “delicatessen-style” shopping experience. Customers can sit at the counter to see and smell the many varieties of flowers stored in glass jars behind the bar. They can then buy just a little, to explore new varieties with less financial commitment, or as much as they want (within the legal daily limit).
Products are co-branded with growers, which helps individual sellers build fans of their specific products and drives them to ensure they offer the best cannabis possible, says Winters. “It has improved the quality of the product because the growers have a little more at stake,” he says.
CNA Stores has further expansion plans in the coming months. A third dispensary is in preparation for Boston. A growing and manufacturing facility is under construction in Amesbury, and the company has also secured 14 acres of land in Winchendon, north-central Massachusetts, to build a second such facility. They hope the two will be up and running next year, developing products for their own stores as well as other dispensaries across the state.
The plan is to create a highly energy-efficient facility that will use as little as half the energy required by other similar-sized operations. They are even in talks with local university researchers to see if it will be possible to convert discarded stems and stems from their plants into biodegradable packaging material for their products.
It’s all part of a business and life philosophy that puts people and the common good at the center of everything, says DiFazio. “If you always do what’s right,” he says, “it’s amazing what you get in return.”
For more information, visit cnastores.com.