Harvest off Mission review: The disruptors’ dispensary
When Harvest off Mission opened in December 2016, its owner, an ex-real estate executive, was determined to change how we shop for weed.
“Our mission is to change the way people think about and consume cannabis and help change that negative perception — take the seediness out of it,” Marty Higgins told the San Francisco Chronicle.
He created a retail experience for cannabis that mimicked Whole Foods and put a members-only lounge in the back, encouraging coworking and consumption in the same space. The membership model dropped off earlier this year, but the spirit of disruption for the sake of disruption remained.
Higgin’s second dispensary would become the first adult-use dispensary in La Lengua, the sliver of rapidly gentrifying neighborhood between Bernal Heights and The Mission, but pot shops were nothing new to the area, or even the block. Higgins bought the building that now houses Harvest in 2015, and quickly started the eviction process for one of its tenants: The Bernal Heights Cooperative, an 11-year-old dispensary that, according to its owners, was struggling to survive. It was the second such takeover for Harvest, which opened its first location at 4811 Geary St. after displacing The Hemp Center, in the Spring of 2016.
At the same time, Jorge Esparza, the owner of Coronita, a neighborhood bar, watched the influx of Silicon Valley millions drive out Latino-owned businesses like his, and he knew he had to do something drastic to survive. In 2018 he shuttered and gutted Coronita and, a few months later, La Corona, a community-focused dispensary, sprung up in its place. Esparza attributed the transformation to gentrification.
If La Corona represents the neighborhood’s past, Harvest reflects its rapidly shifting present, where money wins and history is, well, history.
Nothing here keeps with convention, which is, at times, refreshing; at others it’s just inexplicable. Gone are the lines and counter service. You’re encouraged to browse and buy like you would in a grocery store or boutique, which no doubt increases impulse purchasing -- we really didn’t need that bar of Charcoal CBD soap. It’s a novel and seemingly effective approach, but the space is too damn small for all of that activity.
In dreaming up the WeWork for weed, the owners of Harvest hampered the retail experience. The space is a mix of warm wood shelving, and well-lit display cases. A cold case sits off to the right, filled with edibles and other temperature-sensitive ingestibles, and an island interupts the middle of the room. During our visit, on a busy Thursday afternoon, we found ourselves competing for space on the sales floor. Attempts to casually peruse were abruptly interrupted by apologies, protruding elbow, and wire shopping baskets.
Being busy is good for business, but more than half of the bodies on the floor during our visit were there to make money, not spend it. We counted three security guards (or so we suspect): two stereotypically bulky dudes in security uniforms at the door, and one much smaller guy in a light blue t-shirt and ripped jeans who just sort of casually hovered by the edibles fridge. We can’t say for certain that he was on the payroll -- maybe he was just super stoned and enjoying the cool breeze -- but we can say with confidence that he was in the way. In addition to those three, there were at least three sales clerks on the floor, and two more employees in the back.
This sort of boutique layout is designed for you to explore and discover new products, but this isn’t a self-service affair. We had a sales associate close behind us at all times, which proved helpful when we had questions, but for the most part it just felt like overkill. Harvest seems to be taking notes from The Apple Store here, but it’s unclear why. Yes, this is precious merchandise, but with so little space on the floor, every extra body creates a new obstacle.
Everyone from the guys at the door to our cashier were perfectly friendly, and willing to help – even the dude in the blue shirt shot us an awkward grin or two – but there were just so many of them. There were plenty of customers to fill the spaces between employees and the atmosphere was generally friendly. Without the pharmacy-style lines, customers are free to socialize, and boy did they. We found ourselves on the receiving end of a wiley senior citizen’s life story while our budtender was in the back finding our flower.
People aren’t the only thing in abundance at Harvest. The shop has a wide range of products from plenty of recognizable brands. The Whole Foods comparison may not ring true for square footage, but Harvest does take a holistic approach to getting you high. There are beauty products, edibles, tinctures, flower, and even cold (unmedicated) drinks in the cooler. It’s small touches like these that make Harvest stand out. What it lacks in space, Harvest makes up for in savvy.
We took home a bar of CBD charcoal soap from Leef; a pack of 10 mini pre-rolls (aka Rosettes) from Garden Society; another pre-roll from Space Coyote; two “lifestyle cannabis pouches” from Cannadips that we mistook for teabags; and a gram of Harvest’s in-house Sativa, a nice THC-moderate strain with citrus notes. Turns out a lack of sales floor flow isn’t enough to keep the money from flowing out of our bank accounts.
Back in the lounge, a lone woman sat in front of her laptop on a grey tufted couch, earbuds in place. Crystal chandeliers hung overhead, and the faint haze of a joint in progress lingered in the air. We lit one of our Garden Society dog walkers and took in the atmosphere.
The lounge, now open to all paying customers, offers the casual comfort of a Silicon Valley break room. Small, marble two-tops line the wall, while a communal table dominates the center of the room. Aside from the chandeliers, the decor is minimal if not predictable . There are a few fake potted plants and a bouquet of synthetic flowers, although we’re not entirely sure why – this is a plant store after all.
In keeping with the coworking vibes from its members-only days, the lounge offers free water and WiFi, as well as a bathroom. Unlike other lounges Harvest won’t give you the boot after 30 minutes. It’s not much for people watching, but it could be just the right spot to take a particularly nerve-wracking conference call.
Like the fake flowers, Harvest is inviting but it left us wanting more. More space, more style, more heart. In a neighborhood rocked by gentrification, Harvest’s particular flavor of change feels familiar at best and tone-deaf at worst. For residents of the new San Francisco, Harvest will feel like home. For everyone else, it should serve as a sign of the times.