Overcoming Obstacles to Build a Retail Dispensary During Covid19

An example of getting the job done while building a retail outlet, despite major hurdles presented by the ever-changing regulations and guidelines related to the spread of covid-19.

Imagine a team playing in the Super Bowl… in a blizzard… the quarterback with a broken leg… and half the team missed the flight to the stadium. That’s about how difficult it was to build a medical cannabis dispensary while while covid-19 virtually shut down the state of New Jersey.

In January 2020, Grow America Builders started construction on a medical dispensary in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was scheduled to be a 12-week project. And then COVID-19 happened.

The coronavirus pandemic hit the area hard. Cases doubled daily and stay at home mandates were put into effect. In the middle of this chaos, Grow Grow America Builders, based in Northbrook, Il, was in the midst of construction of a dispensary with a strict state-imposed deadline.

Failure to complete the dispensary on time might result in losing the license. As the confusion surrounding the virus was intensifying, the state of New Jersey was silent on whether there would be a time extension. The builder felt they had to go ahead.

Hurdles, Speed Bumps, and Roadblocks

The first hurdle was abiding by new regulations. The two primary directives were that all workers must wear masks, and that all entrances must have a washing station with hot water or hand sanitizer. Every construction contractor has masks, but the second rule was more of a challenge. Hand sanitizer was a rare commodity then. If you had a jug of hand sanitizer you may as well have had a jug of gold bullion. The project manager used the first of many favors, and begged a plumber to come to the site on a Sunday to plumb a temporary sink.

The next problem was getting workers to the job site. Immediately, there was confusion as to who was allowed to work and who wasn’t. Some cities allowed essential work to continue, but others shut everything down except for medical personnel. Workers were getting pulled over by law enforcement, and told that unless they were working at a hospital they would have to turn back. It was very confusing; even though construction was allowed in Elizabeth, it might not have been allowed in a neighboring town.

Subcontractors were lost left and right. Workers were assured that construction was allowed on the project, but they didn’t want to risk getting pulled over and of course, didn’t want to endanger their health. Grow America plowed ahead, finding alternate contractors and paying extra to get bodies to the job.

A month from the completion deadline, came the biggest hurdle. One of the critical elements of the project was a wall of glass separating the reception area from the sales counter. No occupancy permit would be issued without it. However, eight members of the installation crew were out with covid-19. They were working on another job and were exposed to a bricklayer who had the disease. In any event, the glass wasn’t ready because the shop had closed down.

In late March, while frantically dealing with the glass crisis, an email arrived from the city stating that all construction was to cease immediately and the building department was closed indefinitely. Internally, at Grow America Builders, this was henceforth known as “The Email.”

There were about three weeks of construction remaining and roughly three weeks until the deadline. There was no room for error. Grow America needed to convince the city to let them finish the project even though they’d shut down all other construction. Finally, the state released a list of “essential businesses” and “medicinal cannabis dispensary” was on the list.

Calls were made to the building department arguing that if a medical cannabis dispensary is considered essential, then the construction of one should be as well.

Finish Line

After 48 hours verbal approval to continue working was granted, and about a week later the building department re-opened with limited hours. By keeping the electricians away from the plumbers, the plumbers away from the millworkers and the painters on a different shift, everyone completed the job in good health. Glass was finally being fabricated and the final inspection was scheduled.

On the morning of final inspections, one item of concern was that the inspector wouldn’t be happy about walking around the glass installers who were still finishing up. The issue became moot because the inspector never showed up. He had fallen ill the night before our final inspection, and since he was apparently the only inspector who could pass the dispensary for occupancy, the team had to wait until he could return to work.

Nobody knew when that would be. The state inspector was scheduled for the following day. This was new territory; the construction firm never had a state inspector come out for their inspection before receiving city inspections. Fortunately, the state inspector did their inspection and the dispensary received state approval. About ten days later, the building inspector came out and approved the site for occupancy, and days later, the dispensary was open for business.

There were a million little things that are usually taken for granted that were made much more challenging under the shadow of COVID-19. It was a major accomplishment to build a medical dispensary amidst the pandemic in the hardest hit part of the country. Thanks to everyone involved overcoming incredible challenges, medical marijuana patients are now finding it easier to gain relief in Elizabeth, NJ.

David Fettner

Grow America Builders, LLC

910 Skokie Blvd #107

Northbrook, Illinois 60062



David Fettner is a managing partner of Grow America Builders, a national design-build construction company. Along with his partner, Mike Kaulentis, Grow America brings over twenty years of versatile construction experience, offering customers an end to end experience from concept through architecture, design and turnkey construction.

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