April 4, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
The owner of a well-known pet shop in Astoria has become the first person to get Community Board 1 approval to open a legal cannabis dispensary in the neighborhood.
Keith Dalessio, whose family has operated Astoria Pets on Steinway Street for around 40 years, appeared before the board’s executive committee via Zoom on Monday, April 3, to field questions about his upcoming cannabis store, which he said is expected to open within three to four months following last night’s approval.
The new store will be called Blaze Astoria and will open at 32-60 Steinway St., a space that was previously occupied by the fitness studio Lucille Roberts.
“I’m very excited about this and very enthusiastic about it,” Dalessio said at April 3 the meeting. “I’m comfortable doing it in a town that I love and appreciate. I really want to shine, I want to be a beacon and I want to be the gold standard of the cannabis dispensary in New York.”
Dalessio said he intends to offer cannabis buds that can be ground up and used in joints or bongs, along with weed vapes, marijuana edibles and marijuana drinks. Customers must be 21 years or older to purchase the products.
Blaze Astoria will also provide accessories such as rolling papers, grinders and trays, Dalessio said.
Dalessio was recommended for license approval by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) in November — about 20 months after the state legalized adult-use recreational marijuana — and then, as part of the process, he submitted his plans to Community Board 1 for local oversight and approval.
The community board approval process runs along similar lines to that of a liquor license application in that input from local communities must also be heard. The community board then submits a recommendation in favor of, or against granting the license – and in Dalessio’s case, his application was unanimously approved by the executive committee last night.
The approval was granted after Dalessio gave an overview of his new business and then took questions from various executive committee members in attendance. Officer Tovar, of the 114th Precinct, was also present.
Dalessio, who has lived in Astoria for 25 years, said he was initially approved by the state for the license after receiving high marks for his past business experience, which includes the Astoria Pets store at 3150 Steinway St., and another pet shop in the Bronx called Gabby Pets.
Dalessio also has a prior cannabis conviction, which was a requirement in order to obtain the license — which is known as a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license.
His approval for the license comes after the first legal dispensary in Queens opened in Jamaica last week.
Dalessio said the new store is around 4,500 square feet, although between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet of the premises will be used for retail purposes. He said the floor plan of the establishment is in its early stages and has yet to be finalized, although he said it will not come with a lounge area.
There will be an armed security guard situated inside the store at all times during opening hours, Dalessio said. When Blaze Astoria initially opens, Dalessio intends to have additional unarmed security guards inside and outside the premises to manage crowd control while the space will also be equipped with commercial-grade security such as CCTV.
In terms of the cannabis being sold, Dalessio said that customers will be able to find out where each bud originates from and where it travels along the supply chain. He said that each seed is given a barcode when it is planted, and the barcode tracks the seed as it develops into a plant and then gets shipped to a distributor before moving on to his store.
“It is literally tracked from seal to sale,” Dalessio said.
One board member at the meeting, Richard Khuzami, raised concerns about addiction and people potentially being served at the store while already being under the heavy influence of drugs.
Dalessio said that no customer will be sold cannabis if they are too stoned and his staff will be fully trained to deal with such circumstances.
Khuzami also asked if the shop would attract a “bad element” to the neighborhood.
Dalessio’s attorney, Cristina Buccola, said that studies have shown that crime has gone down where legal cannabis dispensaries have opened. She did not specifically cite the studies during the meeting.
Legal cannabis dispensaries, she said, are also required to be brightly lit.
(Photo: Wesley Gibbs via Unsplash)
Dalessio said the exterior of his store will be more subtle than typical smoke shops and will not come with bright neon lights.
“Everything will be very innocuous, even the signage out front… it [will be] very very stringent,” Dalessio said.
Buccalo, in response to a concern raised about the products being marketed to kids, said regulations around advertising with regard to legal dispensaries are very strict.
“In Keith’s windows on Steinway Street, he is not going to be able to display product. He’s not going to be able to have pot leaves,” Buccalo said. “So all these things that you see with the illicit activities [illegal cannabis shops] … will not be present.”
Blaza Astoria will open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, Dalessio said.