On April 21, the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals approved plans to open an LGBTQ+- and Black-owned adult-use cannabis dispensary in Chicago's Northalsted neighborhood, at 3340 North Halsted St., in the former Town Hall Pub space.
The project results from a collaboration between cannabis-equity advocate Edie Moore with LGBTQ+-rights activists and local business leaders Art Johnston and Jose "Pepe" Pena. Windy City Times talked with Kevin Hauswirth, an entrepreneur and communications/marketing executive who is on the ownership deed and in charge of day-to-day operations. (By the way, he said that the dispensary should open by the end of the year.) It turned out that serendipity played a role regarding everything from obtaining a license to getting a location.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: Talk with me about the genesis of this project.
Kevin Hauswirth: In 2018 or 2019, I met Edie Moore, who headed ChicagoNORML and is one of the leading advocates for cannabis equity. I was working in a coalition with a large group of people who were advocating for the passage of the adult-use cannabis lawspecifically ensuring that social-equity and criminal-justice provisions were at the forefront.
In doing that, Edie Moore and I became fast friends and collaboratorsand I said to myself, "She needs to meet Art and Pepe. They're just cut from the same cloth." So, they formed this friendship. And when the time came when this law passed, I had lunch with Edie and asked, "What do you think about going in on a dispensary license? It's a long shot; there are thousands of people applying." And she said, "I'm game." She was so excited.
WCT: And how did you come upon this particular location?
KH: Unfortunately, the owner of Town Hall [Bill Bucholtz] passed away due to COVID [in 2021], when a lot of bars were closed. So the space came up for sale, and the partner of the previous owner knew there was a drive to keep North Halsted Street queer-owned and to keep that inclusivity that makes [that area] so special. So she reached out, saying that she's going to sell the space and asking us if we would be interested [in purchasing it]. This just happened to take place during a time when we were working on a location for the dispensary.
This had been years in the making. There was getting the law passed, and then there were lots of delays because of COVID. Then there was the lottery to see who would get licenses, and then there were all these lawsuits. So this has been some time.
WCT: So what's going to be the set-up inside the dispensary?
KH: One of the things that's extremely important to us and the neighborhoodand that's required by lawis that customers feel safe and welcome. There will be a waiting area where you'll have your ID checked to make sure you can purchase cannabis legally. Then you'll enter the main sales floor and we'll be encouraging people to do pre-orders online; it's a retail experienceyou come in, you pick up and then you're out the door.
For folks who remember Town Hall, there will be some similarities in the floor plan. There were two entrances: a north and a south door. Customers will enter through the north door, go through the sales floor and leave through the south door. There will also be a secure area for employees only that will have the product and a lounge. By the way, there will be no on-site consumption.
WCT: And where does the nameSwaycome from?
KH: So this is something that we came up with. We wanted something that was unique and that was a little of a nod to the ownership and the neighborhood. "Sway" is a vibeit's old, inclusive and somewhat unapologetic. It reflects the social and cultural influences of queer and BIPOC communities.
WCT: What does it mean to you to have Sway in this area?
KH: This is something that's extremely important to Art, Pepe, me and [others]the preservation of neighborhoods. Queer enclaves across the country are disappearing. And when our people lose geographical proximity, we lose political power and our social connectivity. It's extremely important that we have local, representative and queer ownership. This is another addition to the neighborhood that will help preserve Northalsted.
WCT: How much blowback was there to this dispensary? Some people say they're cool with the idea of dispensaries but take a NIMBY ("not in my backyard") approach to having them.
KH: One of the things that's so impressive about Edie Moore is the work she's done about the stigma around cannabisand a lot of that stigma has disappeared. And, as you can imagine, the queer community is very aware of stigma.
There was no blowback with this dispensary. We engaged with the community and had meetings. This neighborhood understands that prohibition doesn't work.
I also think that some people may not know about the history of cannabis legalization and HIV/AIDS activism. The early cannabis activists came out of the HIV/AIDS movement, because they were seeking remedies and ways to help their friends and themselves. They needed cannabis to help with things like appetite and nausea. So there's a very rich history between queer folks and the legalization of safe cannabis.
WCT: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
KH: This whole project was borne out of a friendship over people who have a shared bond for social justice and activism. Here we are, years later, watching this vision happen.
We wanted to make sure we reflect the culture and vibe of [North Halsted] Street. Sometimes with cannabis, you see the same stuff. For us, it's so much morethe safe space, the history.
People will be able to go to a place free of stigma and be themselves. That's the history and the future of this neighborhood.
People can sign up for updates about Sway Dispensary at www.EverybodySWAY.com .