Before CNA Stores even opened for business, they were already helping the community. When the pandemic hit in spring 2020, resources became scarce for many small organizations providing food to low-income households. So CNA jumped into action.
First, they bought enough food to fill a 28-foot truck owned by partner organization Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, coordinating with Market Basket to get a discounted price. They then delivered the food to Dorchester’s Community Corner for distribution to families in need. Then they decided to expand on the idea. They rented a refrigerated trailer to keep on their property and worked with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, which provided 1,000 cases of food per week. The demand for assistance was so high that CNA partnered with Massachusetts Fallen Heroes and Veterans Northeast Outreach Center to get the food to those who needed it.
In total, these operations distributed some 17,000 cases of food, helping hundreds of families and organizations through an unprecedentedly difficult time. “As soon as the shutdowns started, we knew we had to do something to help,” says Robert DiFazio, co-founder and chief executive officer of the community-minded cannabis company. “We don’t just work in these communities – we’re part of them.”
CNA’s pandemic response is just one example of how this veteran-owned cannabis company puts community at the center of everything they do. The business began when DiFazio’s son, recently graduated from college, suggested his father look into the burgeoning cannabis industry. DiFazio, a Navy veteran with an extensive background in data centers, began to investigate, becoming intrigued by both the business potential and the science involved. He decided to go for it.
He opened the Haverhill store in late 2020 – his son is the manager – then quickly followed with the Amesbury location in January 2021. From the beginning CNA Stores was focused on building community, starting first with their own employees, who DiFazio says are the most essential people in the business.
“Our budtenders are the people who interact with our customers,” DiFazio says. “They are the number one most important people in our company.”
The employees are also integral to the business’ charitable efforts: Since the business began, the staff has put in a total of roughly 1,000 hours of community service. Some assist with the company’s Snow Angels program, clearing snow from the homes of veterans and elderly or disabled residents in Haverhill and Amesbury.
The team is always looking for creative ways to give back to the community. Recently the CNA team was approached by the Amesbury Recreation department to see if they could assist in building a kayak rack to be placed at Lake Gardner in Amesbury. The department had secured the money for the materials, but had no means to complete the construction. The team at CNA stepped in and made it happen.
“It was amazing to see how quickly our staff jumped onto these things,” DiFazio says. “We try to create that culture that gets people thinking about community service and wanting to do it.”
This attitude plays out daily in the dispensaries. By each register there is a plastic jar waiting to collect donations. Each month, the business supports a different charity – from a nonprofit raising funds for pediatric cancer to groups aiding military veterans – and encourages customers to drop a donation in the jar.
So far, this approach has raised $108,000 for the charities the business supports. And the employees benefit too.
“At the end of the year, we tally up how much we’ve donated, and we match that and give that as a bonus to our budtenders,” DiFazio says.
In early 2022, the city of Amesbury decided to suspend its impact fees – payments cannabis dispensaries are required to make to the town to help mitigate any negative effects the businesses might have on the community. Seeing no harmful impacts that needed attention, Amesbury mayor Kassandra Gove chose not to collect the money. CNA Stores immediately took the funds set aside for the payment – more than $100,000 – and donated them to the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, an organization that works to end veteran homelessness.
CNA Stores’ work in the community, however, does not mean it is not focused on providing quality products and a welcoming experience to its customers. “We carry good weed,” says Scott Winters, director of business development. “We love what we do in that space as well.”
This positive attitude creates a retail experience that is warm and inclusive, Winters says. Customers are welcomed no matter their experience level with cannabis, and the staff talks to them about their personal needs. When customers are looking for a product to help with mental health or physical issues, the highly trained employees work closely with them to help find the strains and type of product that may best address their needs.
“It’s not just business, it’s about the people,” DiFazio says.
CNA Stores carries one of the region’s widest range of pre-packaged flower, concentrates, tinctures, and edibles. It is also the only dispensary in the North Shore Massachusetts region to also offer what it calls a “deli-style” buying experience. Customers can pull up a stool at the counter for a chance to view and smell many varieties of flower stored in glass jars behind the bar. They can then buy just a little, to explore new strains with less financial commitment, or as much as they want (up to the daily legal limit).
The products are co-branded with the growers, which helps individual vendors develop fans of their specific products and drives them to make sure they are offering the best possible cannabis, Winters says. “It’s increased the quality of the product because growers have a bit more at stake,” he says.
CNA Stores has more plans for expansion in the coming months. A third dispensary is in the works for Boston. A cultivation and manufacturing facility is under construction in Amesbury, and the company has also secured 14 acres of land in Winchendon, in north-central Massachusetts, to build a second such facility. They hope both will be up and running next year, growing product for their own stores as well as for other dispensaries across the state.
The plan is to create a highly energy-efficient facility that will use as little as half the power required by other, similarly sized operations. They are even in talks with local university researchers about whether it will be possible to convert discard stalks and stems from their plants into a biodegradable packaging material for their products.
It’s all part of a philosophy of business and life that places people and the common good at the center of everything, DiFazio says. “If you’re always doing what’s right,” he says, “it’s amazing what you get in return.”
For more information, visit cnastores.com.