Home Business LA Cannabis Business Spotlight: LAVC

LA Cannabis Business Spotlight: LAVC

Image Credit: Samantha Gurewitz

Tucked between a chiropractor and a foot spa on an unassuming block of Wilshire Ave is the entrance of LAVC, or Los Angeles Variety Cannabis. The personality inside the shop is a warm contrast to the concrete block outside; wooden displays are punctuated by a pair of bright green wings with smoke rings rising like a halo from where an Instagrammer would stand against the wall. While many dispensaries make you order from large, hard-to-read menus posted on the wall while a line waits behind you, at LAVC, you peruse neatly arranged rows of flower in small sniffing jars, giving it more of the feel of a neighborhood wine shop than a fast-food restaurant.

Ilya Shmidt, one the owners, says they try to use their small square footage strategically. “There’s a good flow to the shop. People appreciate the freedom to look at stuff without having to ask someone to show it to them. It’s a much more comfortable and inviting atmosphere. There’s no pressure that we’re pushing certain products onto you.”

One thing you notice as you wander the long display tables labeled Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid is the sheer number of strains available at the shop. Shmidt says, “Our store’s name is Los Angeles Variety Cannabis, so we pride ourselves on having a variety of everything. Our store is known to have the most strains. We normally carry fifty plus strains. Most stores don’t even carry half that.“

He says the most important thing he looks for in products is quality. “I always tell my budtenders to sell everything with confidence, because as the buyer I know that I buy quality things.”

Shmidt also wants to get the best prices for his customers, and there are certain companies he knows he can trust to deliver both. “Old Pal, for example, it’s a pretty reputable company. They’re owned by MedMen and it tests pretty high. It’s outdoor, but bang for your buck, people jump all over it. It’s one of our best selling products. Because for twenty dollars out the door, including tax and everything, you can walk out with an eighth of weed that’s great.”

Shmidt was born in Russia but moved to LA when he was four years old. After graduating from UC Riverside with a degree in Business Administration in 2008, he ended up working in the film industry doing production accounting. Shmidt says his choice to move to the cannabis industry in 2014 wasn’t prompted by money, but by happiness. “I probably would have made more money in movie production honestly, but I’m happier day-to-day in weed. And my accounting background definitely helps with buying products, setting pricing and calculating costs.”

Shmidt worked his way up from budtender under his now partner, Dmitry Levin. “We’ve been friends since we were fifteen,” Shmidt says. ”He was my roommate at one point while we were working at the shop. Honestly, there’s only so many people you can stand to see day and night, and we still gave a great relationship, so we’re really lucky to have that.”

Dmitry Levin began LAVC back in 2007 for his own reasons. “It was an interesting time for me as I just finished my basketball career due to a knee injury. I was working a retail job and going to school and really trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My mother’s family friend decided to open a dispensary and they actually recommended I should get it into it. I was tired of working for other people and feeling unappreciated, so I decided to start my own business. Once I got the store, I noticed how cannabis was really helping and affecting people positively and that grew my passion even more.”

Although Levin found positivity in the cannabis industry, it was not always an easy road. “Back then it was the Wild West. Even though we were doing everything by the book, it was still not easy sleeping at night. We were constantly worried about burglaries, federal raids and pretty much day-to-day business.” He started the shop in Reseda but moved it to Miracle Mile in 2013. “It was a different time, it wasn’t easy finding a landlord that was ok with cannabis. Finding a great location like we are in today was nearly impossible.”

Security guard Asher Neri has seen how changing laws have affected the shop – and its customers – more recently. “In the beginning of the year when the laws went recreational, a lot of the customers that were here for a long time were having a hard time adjusting to the new ID rules.” While a few people have been annoyed by being required to check in with ID, Neri thinks the new laws have brought more benefits than problems so far. “With recreational laws we’ve seen a lot more faces from other countries, and from different states too, so that’s a beautiful thing.”

Levin says, “LAVC has been through its ups and downs and we’ve been able to persevere by not giving up through the hard times, by staying on top of being compliant with all the changes and taking it one step at a time. We did things the right way for so many years to be in the thriving position we are in today.”

Staff is always one of the most crucial factors in a shop. Budtenders can make all the difference when it comes to your ultimate cannabis experience – both inside the shop and at home when you look in your bag. LAVC boasts a friendly and knowledgeable staff that Shmidt takes pride in. “What I currently look for in a budtender is punctuality and the knowledge of marijuana. We get a lot of really good reviews about our budtenders.”

He notes that having good customers and patients coming in may also help maintain a good staff. “A lot of people come into budtending needing part-time work, because they’re in school or working at another job, and more often than not, people stay because they really enjoy the atmosphere. It’s such a chill vibe. Day-to-day you’re working, you’re dealing with these great people, and a lot of them really appreciate your help because the knowledge that you give them really helps them with their anxiety or cancer or whatever they have going on, their pain. People don’t realize until they actually start doing it how rewarding it can be. I have people that come in and just give everybody a hug and say, ‘Thank you so much. I love you guys. I’m so happy you’re here.’ It’s so nice to hear, because a lot of people just think, ‘Oh its a weed shop, whatever’, but it really does affect people’s lives for the positive.”

Budtender Stephanie Zamarripa agrees. “I love working here. It’s definitely the best job that I’ve ever had. It’s a really amazing work environment. I can walk in here having the worst day ever and leave with a smile on my face everytime. We have two really amazing bosses here who aren’t just trying to make money, they’re in this because they actually care about people that work for them and the people that shop here.”

Everyone at LAVC seems to share the attitude that what they do is more than just selling cannabis – it’s selling joy. As Shmidt says, “People come into the shop happy, and they leave with weed, so they leave even happier.”