Buckley quietly welcomes Pierce County’s first pot store outside Tacoma

The average passerby might not immediately recognize Mr. Bill’s as a marijuana retailer.

The Buckley shop is open for business next to state Route 410 on the outskirts of this city of about 4,400 people, attached to a convenience store, with a small sign and a nondescript black-and-white logo. It’s the first store of its kind in East Pierce County and sits just as quietly as it did when it opened Tuesday.

Mr. Bill’s is the latest local pot purveyor in a trade that’s seen much local government opposition and hesitation since state Initiative 502 created a regulatory system for marijuana. It opened several months after lots of chatter accompanied grand openings of the county’s first state-licensed stores in Tacoma.

Some surrounding communities, such as Sumner and Enumclaw, have banned pot businesses. Other suburban Pierce County cities, such as Puyallup and Gig Harbor, have seen elected leaders continue to take time on the issue while residents sound off loudly at public hearings.

Buckley was fine leading the way. But where was all the noise?

“This has been a part of the culture for a long time,” Mayor Pat Johnson said of Buckley and surrounding rural communities.

The city has taken a more relaxed approach to I-502, choosing to embrace the will of the voters and avoid a costly legal battle like the city of Fife has apparently undertaken with its outright ban on marijuana.

“We’ll follow whatever rules the court decides,” Johnson said. “We can’t afford to take on the whole marijuana issue on the shoulders of the taxpayers of Buckley.”

The only action the Buckley City Council took related to marijuana was implementing a six-month moratorium on medical pot operations to give the Legislature time to implement regulations for that segment of the industry and provide a road map for cities.

As for recreational pot, Johnson said there were some concerns about Mr. Bill’s location near the Foothills Trail, but she noted that Route 410 divides the trail and the store.

Johnson said she cut the ribbon at Mr. Bill’s grand opening this week, as she does with every new business, in front of a crowd of about a dozen customers.

“We weren’t really sure what to expect,” she said, adding that so far there haven’t been traffic problems, long lines or complaints about the retailer. “It’s been very, very quiet.”

Several businesses surround Mr. Bill’s, including a hair salon and a teriyaki restaurant. Some owners and employees say only rumors tipped them off about the new tenant.

Some have concerns and will be watching closely, but neighbors agree that it is too soon to tell how a pot shop will affect the complex.

Sean Boyle, who’s worked five years at a nearby grocery store, said customers haven’t said much about Mr. Bill’s. The only talk was on opening day, when customers noticed a small crowd across the parking lot.

“We haven’t had a problem yet,” Boyle said Friday. “I don’t really foresee any huge problems.”

Mr. Bill’s general manager, Doug West, said he’s worked to win over the public. He spent about eight months preparing for business, which included attending City Council meetings and inviting skeptics to come check out the shop’s security system.

“We’ve had cameras running since May,” West said.

The store has 30 cameras and a separate counter designated for pot sales, located behind bars, and a door with electronic, keyless entry.

West said he believes anyone who took the tour had their concerns addressed.

“Anyone who walked in the store with a bad attitude walked out nodding their heads saying ‘OK, we understand it now,’ ” he said.

Mr. Bill’s salesman Dan Farrell said Friday that business has been steady since the shop opened.

“We’re excited that we’re the only ones out here,” he said.

But Mr. Bill’s won’t be alone for long; another marijuana retail store is set to open in four to six weeks in a industrial park near Elk Head Brewing Company.

Farrell said Mr. Bill’s customers are mostly residents from Buckley, Sumner, Bonney Lake and other nearby cities. Some out-of-state stragglers have ventured in, and tourists headed to Mount Rainier.

Farrell said Mayor Johnson was enthusiastic at the shop’s grand opening.

“We got a nice, warm welcome from the city of Buckley,” he said.

Johnson said she isn’t exactly thrilled about legal recreational marijuana, but she won’t speculate why voters supported it; her job is to listen and respond.

“We don’t have a choice,” she said. “The citizens voted for this.”