Fiddler's Green

November 24, 2021

Métis entrepreneur bringing culture back to cannabis

Métis entrepreneur RJ Kusmack opened Fiddler's Green Cannabis Company in the Exchange in September.

The legend of Fiddler's Green enchanted RJ Kusmack long before he named his first cannabis shop after it.

"Fiddler's Green I've always known through music," he said, referring to songs of the same name by the Tragically Hip, Larry Foley, and other bands.

"I heard this legend when I was really young about this resting place or an afterlife that you have to earn to rest in after you pass, and it's always kind of intrigued me."

The folklore of the afterlife for sailors who've spent 50 years at sea charmed Kusmack, so when it came time to name his cannabis boutique in the historic Exchange District, which opened in September, the name "Fiddler's Green" stood out.

The Métis entrepreneur describes himself as very musical, even playing in a Celtic band. Music constantly plays in the Métis-owned shop, located across the Cube inside the King's Head pub.

"The love for the music is really important to me, and that's one of the reasons Fiddler's Green exists. I mean, the fiddle in my heritage is very close to me," Kusmack said.

"For me, 'fiddler's' is a reference to the musical aspect of cannabis. Cannabis and music go together," he said. "'Green' of course is a reference to cannabis. And then of course Fiddler's Green itself is this afterlife."

In this afterlife, he said, "men and women never stop dancing, there's always a fiddle that plays. Bottles grow on trees, and it's just an absolute beautiful place, and that's kind of what I wanted here. And this is definitely a bit of a pushback against corporate cannabis. We're very local, very independent, proudly Métis owned and operated."

Kusmack, partner and CEO of the Fiddler's Green Cannabis Company, said the name ties into cannabis culture. As it states inside the store, "'Where the skies are all clear and there's never a gale, and the fish jump on board with one swish of their tail. Where you lie at your leisure, there's no work to do, the fiddle keeps playing under skies so blue.' To me, that is like the best day. I'm playing music on a boat and fish just jumping on board - there's nothing to do in my day - that's to me exactly what cannabis culture is," he said.

The cannabis shop's name was inspired by the legend of Fiddler's Green - an afterlife for sailors who've spent 50 years at sea.

Fiddler's Green aims to bring culture back to cannabis.

"What one thing opening up Fiddler's Green made us realize is that large corporations are sometimes faceless, and they don't understand the culture that has been built over 100 years of cannabis users developing this beautiful culture of peace and harmony," Kusmack said.

He encourages anyone to stop by the shop to say hello and get to know staff.

"That's the best part of cannabis culture is a sharing circle, getting to know people one soul at a time."

Fiddler's Green is located at 124 King Street, but King's Head pub-goers can also enter the business through the eatery without going outside.

Opening the business came about through necessity for the 40-year-old. He was laid off due to COVID-19 after working in the craft beer industry for over 10 years.

"I've never been without a job in my life, I've always had one lined up. So it was actually a real gut check moment for me. I just had a baby. I have a pregnant wife. I have a brand-new mortgage, and all of a sudden no way to pay for any of this," Kusmack said.

He spoke with his friend Chris Graves, owner of the King's Head, about his next career moves. Kusmack was interested in opening a cannabis store, and the King's Head had available space.

"I needed to make a change, so Fiddler's Green Cannabis Company came to fruition," he said.

"It's a beautiful boutique that we've spent six months designing and building. The majority of the work was done with myself and my partner. We're just really proud of the space."

A showcase of sustainable practice, the shop's interior is decorated with as much recycled, repurposed, and reused materials as possible.

"All of our display units were actually old pub tables from the King's Head that I sanded down, refinished, put legs on the tables that were from a scrapyard. So I actually cut this two-inch galvanized piping down to size and then rethreaded them just to pull something out of the scrap yard," Kusmack said.

Other displays include decommissioned Hydro poles that he cut and shaved down, and lacquered the top.

"In regards to sustainable practice, all of our live edging is made with pine, which is a fast-growing tree," Kusmack added.

"All of the brick throughout the store, for example, is repurposed brick that's been cut in half, so you actually get twice the amount, or twice the square footage, of use. An old guitar that I had kicking around that was pretty much destined for the fire pit - I took the top off and it's now a really beautiful display that we use."

Fiddler's Green is currently the only wheelchair accessible cannabis store in downtown Winnipeg.

While you can access Fiddler's Green outside at 124 King Street, King's Head pub-goers can also enter the business through the eatery without going outside.

The shop aims for inclusivity, making sure every Manitoban is catered to. Fiddler's Green is currently the only wheelchair accessible cannabis store in downtown Winnipeg, and has braille menus on order.

"It's going to be a four-page menu of our top sellers," Kusmack said.

The store will also be offering sensory sensitivity shopping experiences on Sundays - their quietest days.

"It will be a great atmosphere for people with severe anxiety, PTSD, ADD, ADHD, brain trauma - we're going to offer them a very mild, calm, welcoming atmosphere to do their shopping in," he said.

What's more, Fiddler's Green has Narcan kits, used to treat an opioid overdose, on hand.

"We're just in a part of town where it's possible we might see somebody that needs help," Kusmack said.

"We are big supporters of overdose awareness and harm reduction."

Kusmack said the response from customers and the community has been very positive since the boutique opened its doors two months ago, and staff have been pulling a lot of long hours to guarantee a quality customer experience. Fiddler's Green is open Monday to Thursday from 10am to 8pm, Friday and Saturday 10am to midnight, and on Sundays from 12-6pm.

RJ Kusmack started the cannabis boutique after being laid off due to the pandemic.

Just as the budding business started with music, music will help it grow.

April 20 will see the kick-off an annual festival called the Fiddler's Green Live Music Series at the Cube, bringing communities together through music and festivity.

"I think the spring is kind of the most exciting thing for me in regard to the business," Kusmack said.

The event - a collaboration with the Exchange District BIZ, Little Brown Jug, and the King's Head - will offer live music and educational events.

"It should be a great music festival, and that's I think kind of our coming out party, our launch. Business has been great, the staff that we've hired are second to none," he said. "Onwards and upwards. We're doing the right thing on a daily basis. Every day it's getting better."

In Manitoba, people 19 and up can purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. Those 19 and older can visit the Fiddler's Green Cannabis Co. website at fiddlersgreencannabis.com and Instagram at @fiddlersgreencannabis.

 


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