The Cannabis Corner — a small marijuana store just off state Highway 14 in North Bonneville — opened its doors March 7. Leaders of the tiny Columbia River Gorge city had big hopes for their experiment, aiming to use the store’s sales to alleviate North Bonneville’s ailing budget.

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In its first two months in business, the nation’s only city-owned pot shop is struggling to break even.

The Cannabis Corner — a small marijuana store just off state Highway 14 in North Bonneville — opened its doors to a swarm of national media attention on March 7. At the time, no other city in the U.S. had even attempted to get into the recreational-marijuana industry, and leaders of the tiny Columbia River Gorge city had big hopes for their experiment, aiming to use the store’s sales to alleviate North Bonneville’s ailing budget.

John Spencer, North Bonneville’s former city administrator and now managing consultant for the store, initially projected The Cannabis Corner would generate about $2.7 million in its first year, netting a profit of $225,000. Under the store’s bylaws, all profits would go back to the city’s coffers to help cover public health and safety expenses. Any profit could make a big difference for a city with an annual budget of about $1.2 million.

In March, sales grossed only a little more than $68,000, a net loss of a few thousand dollars, Spencer said. Granted, it was a short month, since the store was only open for about three weeks.

Sales climbed about 15 percent in the store’s second four weeks in business, reaching $87,500 in gross sales for April. But the store only managed to break even.

“At this point I’ve pretty much thrown out my projections,” Spencer said. “We’re not going to hit those huge numbers we were talking about. All I can say right now is that we’re making it.”

Spencer realized after the fact that a formula error factored into his original projections. Foot traffic isn’t the problem, though.

Not many big spenders

So far, the store has been getting roughly 60 customers a day, or 1,800 a month. That’s several hundred more than Spencer anticipated, but they’re spending far less than he anticipated.

“Our income per customer is probably about 40 percent of what our projections were,” he said.

The store has scaled back on staff hours to cut overhead, said Tim Dudley, the chairman of the store’s governing board. It’s helped a bit, he said, and things are starting to turn around.

“Things are going actually really well,” Dudley said. “We have steady foot traffic every day.”

One of the problems for customers, Dudley said, is that The Cannabis Corner still takes only cash. Anyone without cash needs to drive down the street to a Chevron station to use the nearest ATM. Cash-only sales are a common practice in pot shops, as the vast majority of banks are unwilling to work with the industry.

Nonetheless, Spencer is hopeful that sales will pick up this summer, the busiest time of year for the beating heart of North Bonneville’s economy: outdoor recreation.

“This is of course, before tourist season hits,” he said. “I’m feeling very, very confident still that our numbers are going to rock by the middle of summer.”

The Cannabis Corner also has a few key changes on the way this spring. Soon, the store will have its own ATM and a debit-card reader, Spencer said. And customers won’t need to pay exclusively with cash, because the store’s about to begin banking with Seattle-based Salal Credit Union.

Store Manager Robyn Legun said the staff is also working to increase the shop’s visibility from the highway.

“We’re going to put a big ol’ sign on top of the building,” Legun said. “Since we can’t put our logo up there or anything, we’re going to put our address on it. And hopefully, that will draw enough attention to the store.”

Spencer’s original projections were far too high for the store, Legun admits. But the business is operating just fine for a pot shop in such an isolated location, she said.

“The projections were kind of based on a more urban area,” Legun said. “So, we’ve had to kind of readjust, but based on what other rural marijuana stores are doing, I think we’re doing good.”