By Erin Tierney
The Creswell Chronicle
This week, business owners readied their letter boards and unabashedly slapped “vote no” signs on the windows of their establishments. They say their livelihoods are being threatened by One Gro’s Measure 20-280 – an initiative to lift the prohibition on marijuana retailers in Creswell.
To briefly recap,The NakD Bean coffee shop, as part of One Gro, opened at 285 E. Oregon Ave. in July. The coffee shop currently offers CBD, or cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive marijuana compound, and will extend the space, should Measure 20-280 pass, to also include a dispensary. One Gro Investment Group includes high-profile Eugene attorney Mike Arnold, PJ Martinez and CEO Dan Isaacson.
Creswell will get its chance to vote again on whether or not to allow dispensaries in town on Nov. 7. And as that time nears, it’s clear this issue goes a lot deeper than marijuana for some.
In last week’s Chronicle, several local business owners committed their views to ink and signed a letter to the editor taking a clear stance against One Gro.
In the letter, their collective voice states that, “Many of us business owners have been approached by One Gro. We feel as though our businesses and livelihoods have been threatened by this company. Businesses we’ve created and grown in order to contribute positively to a community we deeply care about.”
Business owners who signed the letter include Jessica Landstra of Farmlands Market; Bill Spencer of Creswell Point S and Creswell 76; Ashley Lewis of The Bean Hopper; Al Bennett and Tamara Blum of Creswell Chiropractic; Seth Clark of Creswell Coffee Company; Nancy Jones of NuVo Salon; Brandon Bowers of Pro Mobile; Adrianne Lewis of Hot Shots Coffee; Bob Britt of Joe’s Diner; Kelly Coughlin of The Round-Up Saloon; Lindsay Dilley of Black Hound Leather; Tom Ellis of Tom Ellis, CPA; Andy Halvorson of Halvorson Contracting; Tom Foust of The Natural Path; Ryan Cook of Cooks of Oregon; Tanya McNelly of Burlap and Lace; Ryan Hoffstot of Hoffstot Insurance Agency; Shawn Hittenberger of Bulldog Property Management; and Martin and Barbara Heymann of Mobile Glass. Other businesses in Creswell have reportedly signed on since the publication of the letter last week.
The letter stated that business owners who oppose Measure 20-280 are taking a stance that has nothing to do with marijuana, but argue that the measure is written in such a way that it will offer an unfair advantage to One Gro. They said they believe that One Gro will have a negative impact on the community.
The fact that so many businesses rallied together for the same political stance is unprecedented, and that in and of itself speaks volumes, Landstra, owner of Farmlands Market, said.
“There’s power in numbers and for businesses to take a political stance, period, is huge,” Landstra said. “That over 20 business are all on the same page about something, never has that ever happened in the city of Creswell.”
Noticing the political climate of the town, it seemed necessary to enter a discussion about One Gro with other business owners, Landstra said. Some Creswell businesses came together and “spoke openly about about how we felt and what we knew,” Landstra said. The letter “was a way for business to take a stance without being singled out.”
But questions stemmed from the letter and aroused interest in specifics. She said she knew that questions would linger after the letter was published, and added that she had a responsibility to answer them, even though it could potentially make her business vulnerable.
She said it’s hard to put her name on the line and speak on the record about One Gro and the propositions made to her, as outlined below. She’s a young business owner with a wide customer base and said she “never wants to lose customers based on the opinion of one person that has to do with the business — whether they own it or not.”
But as it goes, it is clearly visible in town that some business owners have aligned themselves with No to One Gro, an opposition group formed in town against the generals ethics and alleged misconduct of the company. The other opposition group, Keep it Creswell has a more “positive” perspective, though aligns itself with similar sentiments of No to One Gro. The opposition groups were spearheaded by Campaign Manager Kevin Prociw, Public Relations Director Mike Weber, and Committee Directors Pat Gering and Alonzo Costilla, and held another rally during rush hour traffic on Monday.
Landstra’s personal experience with Arnold was not a good one. She was recently met with business propositions by Arnold, which resulted in Landstra’s decision to vote no.
She said when she was first contacted by Arnold and “the first question that popped out of (Arnold’s) mouth was, ‘would you be okay with being located next to a Safeway?,’” Landstra said. “Of course I said ‘no.’ He then asked me what he could do to help me expand.”
Landstra said she’s been approached by people before about investment opportunities, but this one piqued her interest while simultaneously signaling a red flag.
“I was interested, you know,” Landstra said. “Obviously, if (Arnold) were to bring in a Safeway, then he would just do it — but he was almost asking me first. So I figured that if I can stop that and expand my business, why not?”
The two first conversed through text messaging on July 22. In his texts, Arnold mentions that he and Landstra could “create a business incubator under the same limited partnership model where people brought (Landstra and Arnold) business plans and we vote on whether or not to fund them….maybe you are willing to be on the board of directors.”
Arnold continued, “ At some point, I’m going to post a listing for a dispensary manager. It will need to be someone local with retail experience. It has to be someone without any cannabis experience because I hate those people,” and asked Landstra for referrals.
He said, “welcome to the world of start-ups. Farmlands was your training for the next step.”
In addition to text messages, the two also met at The NakD Bean, where she was escorted to Arnold’s office by an employee “who was carrying open carry handgun,” she said.
“There was also a weapon inside on the desk by Mike (Arnold) that was just sitting out wide open,” Landstra said. “I can’t necessarily say that it was meant to be threatening specifically, but I’ve never held a business meeting where I have handguns sitting out. At that point, it became less of a business meeting for me; it became more of a listening meeting… I wasn’t sure what I should say.”
Arnold “basically told me that he was gonna buy the property between TJ’s Restaurant and the freeway and develop it,” Landstra said. “He said he needed some anchor stores in there and that a grocery store was one of them.”
After meeting with Arnold, he chased the meeting with some emails, which outlined three options for redeveloping the land behind TJ’s to the freeway.
Option one, Arnold wrote, was for Landstra to “create Farmlands Market LLC and transfer all the assets of the grocery store there. (Landstra) devises an opening agreement with X units authorized, which represents some function of the 250,000 units to yourself, representing your capital investment. For simplicity’s sake, let’s use these numbers: 500,000 units. You issue 250,000 units to yourself representing your capital investment. You then sell units (like stock or shares) only to local investors you know and CANNOT advertise the securities offering. You can raise as much as you want this way….you can google all of that and get forms or One Gro can advise you as a shareholder (not as an attorney). We can discuss those details specifically. Maybe if you get closer to your fundraising goal, you can hit us up for more funding.”
Option two, Arnold wrote, was to “set up and LCC called Invest in Creswell LLC. The same sort of set up above, but we would use Reg A+ of the SEC. This company would have the sole purpose of developing the exit. You would have 250,000 shares and draw a salary of whatever per month as CEO and founder. We would raise money for a trampoline park, MMA gym, locally-owned grocery, anchor higher-end restaurant, development of apartment buildings, etc. Whatever we dream up that is good for the city. You draw a salary doing that.”
Option three, Arnold wrote, was to “set up an LLC called Start-up Creswell LLC which pools local investors’ money to invest in locally-owned and operated businesses as an incubator (think Shark Tank, but nicer). This is like option one, except you are in charge of all funds being given out. You draw a salary doing that.”
She said the options proposed to her by Arnold were based on ways to make Landstra money.
“I feel personally like (Arnold) was (making these proposals) to make me money; all those options were really based on that,” Landstra said. “But I’m not based on that; my business isn’t based on that; my ethics aren’t based on that. I like to help my community and do everything I can to be supportive of people here in Creswell.”
She said the propositions made to her “felt like a ‘how do we make (Landstra) happy by not having a Farmlands anymore’ kind of thing,” Landstra said. “That’s what set into me really deeply; none of those plans involved Farmlands Market, and that’s what I’ve built my entire life around. That’s what I’ve built to live on.”
She also said that these options would “put more power in hands than the city of Creswell has. I Ethically and morally could not agree with what (Arnold was) presenting.”
Landstra said that business owners who signed the letter are open to having a conversation regarding One Gro, and encourage the community to have that conversation with them.
The most important thing is to be informed, Landstra said.
“If you’re going to vote one way or the other, make sure it’s an educated vote,” Landstra said. She, and all the other business owners who signed, suggest reading the measure in its totality and doing research in order to make an informed decision in November.
To find out more about the initiative, visit onegroinvestments.com, keepitcreswell.org and no2onegro.org.