The island – roughly 30 square miles of hilly, heavily wooded terrain on the western shores of the Puget Sound – is accessible from downtown Seattle solely by ferry. On a clear, windy January afternoon, the 30 minute ride was a thrill: the water sparkled as the dramatic Seattle skyline shrank out of sight, snow-covered Mount Rainier loomed in the distance and a whole gaggle of dogs pranced around the deck as giddily as their human companions. When the green blur of the island began to take shape, travelers reluctantly made their way to the exit.
A gray van, which takes customers on the second leg of the journey to Paper & Leaf, was waiting at the ferry terminal.
Since opening in 2015, the store has offered a shuttle service that delivers you directly to the dispensary’s front door — and onwards to other points on the island, if you so desire. The cost? One dollar.
Paper & Leaf, which is open to both medical patients and adults 21 or older, is housed in a non-assuming building off the island’s main highway. As we arrived, the chatty van driver du jour, opened the door just as co-owner Steven Kessler’s giant muppet-like poodle mix, Winston, bounded out to greet us.
Inside, the mood was just as cheery. Wall-mounted glass boxes full of flowers competed for space with a photo exhibition from a local artist. Rows of edibles glowed in the warm light of exposed bulbs. Employees guided customers slowly around the floor and Paul Simon’s “Graceland” played out of speakers overhead.
As Kessler and his fellow co-owner Brendan Hill – drummer for the long-standing rock band Blues Traveler – are quick to acknowledge, the shop caters to a wide range of customers, from connoisseurs to tourists and Bainbridge locals, who may be unfamiliar with cannabis.
“Around the holidays, a lot of Bainbridge people have their families in [to the store],” Hill said. “Sometimes the resident isn’t even using, but they want to show their family a pot shop the way we’ve presented it.”
The top-shelf products in the store are curated for that broad customer base.
“What we want to achieve when people come in is that it doesn’t feel wrong to be here,” Hill added.
In the past year, more pot shops have opened on adjacent islands, though Paper & Leaf remains the only store on Bainbridge Island. Hill said that new competition has compelled him and Kessler to find new and exciting products to showcase.
“It’s been a good wake-up call that we always have to be upping our game,” he said. “Competition for shelf space, as well as in the market, has made everyone focus in on special strains.”
For the well-versed consumer, there are many off-the-beaten-path choices to consider. Walking around the shop floor, Kessler had trouble deciding what he was most excited to show off. Eventually he settled on a series of rich green nuggets from a new company called Smooth Sailing Ventures.
“They’re going to surprise some people,” he told me, gesturing towards their sativa-heavy Orange Fruity Pebbles with the air of someone divulging highly classified information.
And for newcomers, Paper & Leaf offers more than enough to pique their budding curiosity, like a lemon ginger concoction from Legal Soda, tingly packets of Hot Sugar (10 mg of THC per packet) and a series of tinctures by Fairwinds.
Thanks to its ability to create an inclusive, welcoming environment, Paper & Leaf has found success on Bainbridge Island. Less than two years since opening, Hill and Kessler are already expanding into an adjacent storefront for a new venture tentatively called “Market Elevated.”
Washington’s I-502 legislation decrees that you cannot sell non-cannabis products, like T-shirts or coffee, in a certified pot shop, and Market Elevated aims to fill that gap for Paper & Leaf.
Hill and Kessler have demonstrated through Paper & Leaf that they have a knack for offering services and products that feel novel and fresh without ever sacrificing quality. Focusing on any of the big selling points — specialty items like dog tinctures, offerings from obscure growers and the store’s relatively remote location — runs the risk of sensationalism. At the end of the day, great cannabis and a welcoming sense of community are what set Paper & Leaf apart.
Paper & Leaf
8040 NE Day Rd W, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
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