By Jack Porcari and Jaime Lubin
While New York’s rapidly-evolving cannabis industry comes online, green entrepreneurs are working hard to fill incredible consumer knowledge gaps, provide unique formulations and train associates effectively. Amid changing regulations and fierce competition from 1500+ unlicensed “sticker shops,” the politics of an entirely new market have created barriers for stakeholders across the space. No one has recognized that better than the team behind Union Square Travel Agency, one of the state’s premier retailers - and now they are bringing cannabis to an entirely new market, with a refreshed identity that embraces all horizons.
Union Square Travel Agency Rebrands As The Travel Agency: A Cannabis Store And Expands To Downtown Brooklyn
The company has announced its rebranding as The Travel Agency: A Cannabis Store, and will be opening a new dispensary this week in Downtown Brooklyn. While a permanent store is being built out nearby, the latest location will initially operate out of a pop-up shop on 118-122 Flatbush Avenue. The Travel Agency Downtown Brooklyn, owned by CAURD licensee GMDSS LLC, will focus on community-centric initiatives that seek to remedy the destructive impacts of the failed War on Drugs and foster positive change within the local neighborhood.
Much like its sister store The Travel Agency Union Square (located at 835 Broadway), The Travel Agency Downtown Brooklyn promises a curated selection of premium products, including flower, pre-rolls, vapes, concentrates, edibles, and infused beverages sourced from New York State’s top cultivators and producers. The store boasts a team of the state's most knowledgeable budtenders—each having undergone an intensive onboarding and training program in Cannabis 101—reflecting their commitment to elevate and enrich customer experiences.
New Yorkers are awaiting what The Travel Agency calls “a visual feast” at the Brooklyn location, which is designed by the same creative team that designed the Union Square dispensary; it will be representative of the brand’s fun yet sophisticated approach to cannabis culture.
“We know there is just as much of an appetite for safe, tested, and quality cannabis in Brooklyn as in Manhattan,” said Arana Hankin-Biggers, President and co-founder of The Travel Agency. “We are excited to be able to continue to contribute to the growth of this exciting new industry, by creating more jobs, and helping to educate consumers about the value of shopping legal.”
What Makes The Travel Agency Successful In New York Cannabis?
Hankin-Biggers recognized the challenges of a legal cannabis retail marketplace from her career in real estate and time working on New York State economic development initiatives. She imagined what a dispensary that prioritizes economic equity and stellar customer service could look like and realized the vision alongside like-minded individuals.
Reflecting on the company’s success since The Travel Agency Union Square launched in February 2023, co-founder Paul Yau noted, “It’s been an amazing first year in the New York cannabis market, launching one of the first dispensaries and taking a leadership position in the industry. Arana and I believe in the growth of the legal cannabis market and are excited to work with other CAURD licensees to help them open and scale their businesses. We’re looking forward to The Travel Agency Downtown Brooklyn providing the same amazing customer experience that The Travel Agency brand is known for, and being a good neighbor to its friends in the community.”
One step into The Travel Agency Union Square will reveal much more than a dispensary. In its store at 835 Broadway, the meticulous placement of every product shows attention to detail and a desire to celebrate brands that look like all shoppers: women-, queer- and BIPOC-owned products. The company also donates 51 percent of their profits to The Doe Fund, a longstanding nonprofit dedicated to reducing recidivism through economic opportunity, housing, and support services for people who are homeless or were formerly incarcerated (for things like cannabis possession).
The Travel Agency Gives Back To The Community
“We are a public-private partnership between The Doe Fund, a not-for-profit who owns the majority of the company and receive over half the proceeds, and Harbour Community, a woman-founded and BIPOC-founded group of New Yorkers who are passionate about cannabis and operate The Travel Agency,” Hankin-Biggers said.
She continued, “Giving back to the community is an integral part of [the company’s] DNA; CJEI [the Cannabis Justice and Equity Initiative] and UNLOC [Unified Legacy Operators’ Council] among others share our mission by supporting and empowering people whose lives were horribly disrupted by the failed War on Drugs. One of the CJEI leaders, Terrence Coffie, defines this as he is not only a Doe Fund graduate, but now an adjunct professor at NYU and is seeking to use it as a platform to give back. UNLOC, led by our friends Vladimir Bautista and Jesse Campomor, also do similar work and share this vision. As the number of licensed stores grows, so do the opportunities we can offer these groups.”
How Does The Travel Agency Union Square Encourage Experiential Cannabis Education?
Passion for the plant radiates through every wall of the building, as The Travel Agency Union Square’s retail space comes to life with an experiential learning hub called the “Flower Lounge.” The business is the first licensed dispensary to feature a dedicated area for cannabis education.
“One of its highlights are interactive vitrines that feature displays of cannabis terpenes and sense-activated experiences so that customers can enjoy the different smells and taste activations with the different strains of cannabis,” The Travel Agency Union Square staff members said. “A key part of the Flower Lounge will help customers explore the seven most common terpenes in cannabis which have a distinct scent and flavor profile, effect on the endocannabinoid system, and will oftentimes impact the overall experience more than the product’s THC percent.”
With so much to smell and feel, this flagship destination is showcasing just how artful and immersive a simple translation can be. In fact, you can read their top seven qualities that make dispensaries memorable on their website. In just under one year of operation, the team seems to be following their own advice. They won multiple Clio Cannabis Awards for retail and brand design, as well as public relations. Even household names like Amy Sedaris and Sarah Silverman are finding the time to check departing flights, too (the latter even brought The Daily Show along with her).
“Celebrities consume cannabis as much as their fans,” The Travel Agency Union Square staff said. “Between the industry awards like our 3 Clios, the word of mouth about [our] customer service, and our design-forward space have all made us the ‘go to’ dispensary for cannabis fans. When the media wants to showcase positive stories about how legal cannabis is benefitting those most impacted by the failed War on Drugs (including the NY Times, ABC News, CBS Mornings, 1010 Wins, Bloomberg, and NY1 among other mainstream media), our store and our team are always happy to do everything we can to destigmatize cannabis and make it accessible.”
Those efforts include a groundbreaking collaboration with Soho’s The House of Cannabis (THC NYC) museum, where The Travel Agency unveiled new delivery kiosks just this past October. You wouldn’t call them “cannabis vending machines,” but they are the first setup of their kind in New York State, a designated space available to the 21+ public in a separate attraction where consumers can order the cannabis products of their choice. Upon selecting items through the tablets in the kiosks, visitors to the museum can get their desired products delivered onsite within the hour. Customers can also patronize the kiosks on THC NYC’s first floor without purchasing a ticket to the exhibits.
What's Next For The Travel Agency?
As one of eleven licensed dispensaries in Manhattan, The Travel Agency Union Square currently offers the largest assortment of over 350+ products. To become more accessible, they expanded to delivery with Doobie, their service provider that delivers to Manhattan and Brooklyn seamlessly. But it’s not just about booking your next trip with them, or even learning about weed for that matter. It’s about a deep-rooted mission meant to transport us to “a better world and a higher plane of consciousness.”
“We are transporting people out of poverty and homelessness and into prosperity and hope,” Hankin-Biggers stated. “When you travel with us, we all go further. The structure of our legal adult-use cannabis market in NY has a real opportunity for significant social impact, in ways we've not wholly seen in other cannabis markets.”
That’s sure to be the case at The Travel Agency Downtown Brooklyn too; the new branch will be the closest adult-use cannabis destination to the Barclays Center. The 4,800-square-foot permanent space, being designed by the award-winning architecture firm Leong Leong, will boast an optimized shopping experience with state-of-the-art point of sale stations, innovative design, and the best selection of legal cannabis in New York City, with delivery available through Doobie. Visitors will be welcome seven days a week.
The Travel Agency Downtown Brooklyn will soon be open at 118-122 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn; The Travel Agency Union Square is currently open at 835 Broadway in Manhattan. For more about The Travel Agency, visit thetravelagency.co or follow @unionsquaretravelagency on Instagram.
*Portions of this article originally appeared in Honeysuckle's 17th print edition, featuring Havoc of Mobb Deep. Get your copy now at dispensaries nationwide or click here to order!
Jack Porcari is a multidisciplinary content creator and advocate from the vibrant city of Buffalo, New York. His work is highly focused on equity, human experience and cannabis justice. To read more of Jack’s words, visit loudthoughts.online. Follow @thecannaprofessor and @loudthoughtszine on Instagram.
Jaime Lubin is Honeysuckle's Editor-At-Large. Her writing has appeared in HuffPost, Observer, Billboard and more. Also an actress and singer, she can often be found on Twitter and Instagram (@jaimelubin) discussing classic films.
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Featured image: The Travel Agency Union Square is renowned for its sleek and intriguing designs (C) The Travel Agency