Following Zig-Zag Path, Local Cannabis Stores Are Ready to Roll

(from left) Shane Jackson, Daniel Berte, Marco Mandra (architect), Stephen Bond, Valley Greens

The noble experiment in legalized marijuana, New York style, is now coming to a licensed retail store near you in Northern Westchester. 

One store will open in Cortlandt this month and two more in Peekskill are on track to follow later this summer. A third Peekskill candidate could still get state approval and might yet enter the market down the road. 

Getting to this point has been a long struggle given the years-long delays caused by numerous lawsuits challenging the way New York hands out licenses. Now comes the task of operating a viable, profitable marijuana business. 

Legalizing pot won the approval of the state legislature to take criminal prosecutions off the table, make the product safer for users, and bring in tax revenue to municipalities.  

Rendering of Valley Greens, Central Avenue, Peekskill

Now that we’re at this point in the history of legal pot sales in New York, it’s up to the business owners, the state and law enforcement to make the system work. 

Will pot smokers make the transition from buying their weed from shady street dealers and “smoke shops” to regulated dispensaries charging 13% in sales tax? Can state and local government find ways to shut down the illegal sales without “re-criminalizing” marijuana? Stay tuned. 

The winner in the Northern Westchester race to launch legal marijuana sales is Kings House of Fire on Route 6 in Cortlandt, next to Kohl’s department store. The doors will open on June 19, Juneteenth Day. 

Rendering of Kings House of Fire, Route 6, Cortlandt

The King family, headed by mother Joan and father Walter Jr., are adding this business to their other entrepreneurial companies. Joan and daughters Wykeima and Wyquasia operate the Kings & Queens Daycare Center in Peekskill’s Beach Shopping Center and Walter Jr. runs his own security business. 

Walter King and his mother Joan. Photo courtesy of the LuxuRay Experience Inc/TLC Shoots LLC

The Kings also own Little Kings and Queens Fun Place, which formerly operated in the space where Kings House of Fire will sell marijuana. The Fun Place will re-open just down the street at the former Odd Lots store. 

Kings House of Fire will be run by son Walter, 27, the third child in the family, along with his mother, who was awarded the license by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. 

It appears that Kings House of Fire has a monopoly on cannabis stores in Cortlandt, given the tight restrictions in the town regulations, which were drawn intentionally to severely limit the number of shops that could legally operate in the town. 

The town code regulating cannabis reads [boldface ours] “… no cannabis retail dispensary shall be permitted within 1,250 feet of any other lot containing another cannabis retail dispensary. In addition, Cannabis retail dispensaries shall only be permitted on Route 6/Cortlandt Boulevard in commercial or industrial zones from the Peekskill City Line to Westbrook Drive on both the north and south sides of the road and only on the south side of Route 6/Cortlandt Boulevard between Westbrook Drive and Baker Street, and they are prohibited within 1,500 feet of any lot on which is located a house of worship, school, nursing home, hospital, park or parkland, and facilities for the mentally or physically handicapped for housing, training or places of employment, regardless of whether such facility is owned by or under contract to any governmental entity.”  

Chris Calabrese (left) and Kyle Knapp, Cloud 914. Photo courtesy of Peekskill Herald

Cloud 914 and Valley Greens will open soon in Peekskill after winning state licenses and special permits from the city’s Planning Commission. 

Partners Chris Calabrese and Kyle Knapp and his wife Kim will operate Cloud 914 at the site of the former Nardone Brothers Furniture store on Washington Street 

Calabrese served for six years as a City of Peekskill police officer, and became the PBA president before transferring to the Westchester County Department of Public Safety for the next 40 years. Knapp operated the well-known Kyle’s Pub for 25 years across the street from Nardone’s Furniture. Both partners are born-and-raised Peekskill natives. 

Valley Greens will be located at 939 Central Avenue near the Bruised Apple bookstore. Partners Shane Jackson, Daniel Berte and Stephen Bond followed a twisting path to final approval. They were first of the Peekskill candidates to get a state license but had to find a new location after the landlord at their first site withdrew the offer of a lease. 

Rendering of Cloud 914, Washington Street, Peekskill

Their friendship goes back to their time together in middle school and they all went on to graduate from Walter Panas High School. Each brings a unique set of business backgrounds, Berte in sales and marketing; Bond in travel agency sales development; and Jackson in commercial real estate.  

Valley Greens was among the first applicants to gain a Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license, granted to people with criminal marijuana convictions, business ownership experience and a significant presence in New York state. Kings of Fire also received a CAURD license.

A third candidate for a Peekskill pot store doesn’t have a state license yet and now lacks a place to open, despite having already won a special permit from the Peekskill Planning Commission.  

The applicants for Gracious Greens, Michael Ruttenber and Stephen Van Ostrand, both U.S. Marine Corps veterans, won a special permit from Peekskill to operate at 32 North Division Street, but still lack a state license. 

By state rules, they are blocked from opening there because the Valley Greens store is within 1,000 feet. An attorney tried to stop the Valley Greens special permit by filing a lawsuit against the state, arguing his clients didn’t know earlier their location would be ruled out. 

The lawsuit didn’t stop Valley Greens from opening, so now if Gracious Greens does eventually get a state license, they will have to find a new location. 

Jim Roberts is a veteran journalist whose Peekskill roots stretch back generations.


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