The opening of the Yamba Boutique cannabis store in what is often referred to as the “Carriage House” in Harvard Square may seem like a sign that times are changing. This is to the store owner, Leah Samura.
“The fact that this was a police station before it was a shed, you know that for me comes full circle,” Samura said, delighted that the historic home of local law enforcement responsible for prohibiting the possession of marijuana is transformed into a site for education and sale of cannabis.
The 31 church street the location near Massachusetts Avenue next to Lizzy’s Ice Cream represents a “full loop” move in another way for the shop owner: Harvard Square is where she and her husband, Sieh, hang out are met as teenagers, during a summer program at the Phillip Brooks House, a nonprofit organization run by students at Harvard.
The shop will be the second cannabis retail operation for the couple, together since meeting when she was 14, but saying she was 16 and he was 17. In April, Sieh launched Yamba Market, along with Yamba Joint, a community space in the same building, on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. But while Market is just that – a modern, tastefully decorated agora of cannabis products arranged in glass display cases – Boutique will be more about creating a lifestyle.
“We like to say Market is grown cannabis and Boutique will be curated cannabis, which means it’s not just about selling flowers,” Leah said. “I want to carry around olive oil, honey, hot sauce, barbecue sauce – things we use every day, to make cannabis part of our daily lives. Not everyone wants not just smoking weed, you know?
Leah also has a specific audience in mind: “Those of us who are often left behind.” By that, within the cannabis industry, she means older consumers, or consumers who identify as LGBTQ, or women of any age. “It is him that I want to educate. It is in them that I want to learn to believe and know that they too can be part of the cannabis community and culture. The programs she has in mind for Yamba Boutique’s second floor reflect this, including demonstrations and talks that integrate cannabis with healthy lifestyles, from yoga to cooking and sex-positive practices.
For someone who has spent her life trying to eliminate stigma and overturn stereotypes for herself and others, Yamba Boutique is a logical step. Leah began her career as a social worker, counseling teenage mothers like her and her mother before her, who became pregnant at 16 and 14, respectively. “I wanted to try to remove the stigma that we have as teenage mothers, that we are nothing and our lives are going to be ruined.” With the encouragement of an Urban League mentor, she quickly transitioned from counseling to technology training for underrepresented populations, believing she could empower others while earning a better salary.
Sieh credits his wife for officially introducing the couple to the medically prescribed marijuana market nearly 20 years ago when he suffered from PTSD and fibromyalgia after the war in Iraq. As Leah described it, “he was in so much pain, and I would tell him you really need to smoke weed.” He resisted until he had to give up his dream job at the Harbor Islands National Park Service. “One day I came home from work and he was in a lot of pain. I could see it on his face. I just rolled a joint for him, lit it up and put it in his mouth and made him smoke. And I saw his face relax from the first puff.
Sieh quickly became a lawyer and then an activist, pushing for legalization in Massachusetts. Leah was a more reluctant player. Cannabis consultant Ashlyn Plunkett laughed as she recalled the Samuras during the inaugural class of a product developer incubator program run by the company Sira Naturals. “Sieh literally brought her, and I use that word in the correct form, kicking, screaming and crying in the cannabis industry.” An eye-opening experience at the incubator — when the couple’s Prurient “bedroom cannabis” lube outsold all other new products on sale — drastically changed Leah’s mindset.
Today, as she stands in the shell of her new location on Church Street, wearing her signature ‘Buy Weed from Women’ jacket, Leah waves her arms, gesturing with a few sweeping sweeps to suggest part of the magic she hopes to create in the shop. “You’re going to see some beautiful curves – and I’m talking about real curves and the curves of the arches. And then we’ll have this wall of living plants which I think will be absolutely stunning. I can’t wait to see it. Like Yamba Market, her shop will feature baskets made by the women of Indego, a women’s cooperative in Africa, in honor of the legacy she and Sieh represent.
For customers, the store will be a truly holistic experience, Plunkett said. “[The interior] will have a designer feel, you know, you’ll feel like you’re walking into a smaller scale place, but with a big personality with feminine elements that are very different from what Market represents. From the moment customers walk in until they go home and unpack their packages, they will reflect the vision, from custom wallpaper to a window display that will be a statement, changing with the seasons, she said. declared.
Welcoming customers this fall
While the Samuras have benefited from participating in the state’s social equity program (providing free statewide technical assistance and training “for those most affected by the war on drugs, prohibition of marijuana, disproportionate arrests and incarceration”, as well as reduced application fees), they have encountered more than a few obstacles since its commitment to its two Cambridge sites. Among them are the city’s relatively high barriers to entry for cannabis operations, the absence of traditional bank loans or state funding, and a three-year cost of ownership of nearly half a million. dollars just for the rent of their two properties.
But Leah said she’s always been more driven than most. “I wanted more out of life. Growing up they used to tell me that I acted like a white person because I read all the time and did things in a certain way that wasn’t like everyone else in my family” – aspects of his personality that Sieh was attracted to “from our first meeting,” he said. “She was taking her life into her own hands.”
Yamba’s 1864 brick building housed the police chief and other law enforcement officers for 10 years. What followed, according to a The Harvard Crimson, was industry: horse-drawn carriage manufacturing, then the Clark and Mills Electric Co., a boys’ clothing store, Steve’s Ice Cream, a Starbucks coffee shop and barber shop, and finally a Community Phone store. It’s from there that Leah plans to grow Yamba Boutique into a women-focused “cannabis brand and lifestyle,” supporting dozens of employees, within five years.
First comes an opening. The store is expected to start welcoming customers this fall, depending on supply chain issues and final city clearances expected by the end of the month.