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At a recent Willoughby Hills City Council meeting, City Engineer Pietro DiFranco announced the plans for a medical marijuana dispensary called Insa to go into the space of the old Friendly’s building at the Shoppes of Willoughby Hills.

Founded in 2013 by Pete Gallagher and Pat Gottschlicht, Insa meets all of the code requirements to do business in Willoughby Hills, according to the city. Insa currently has dispensaries in Massachusetts.

The company will now need to secure building permits from the Lake County Building Department for any alterations to the building. It will also need to obtain approvals for any changes to the exterior of the building and for their signs from the Willoughby Hills Planning Commission, said Mayor Andy Gardner.

“It can take a few weeks to send in the drawings, have them reviewed by the Building Department and then reviewed, and approved by the Planning Commission,” Gardner said.

Insa’s first dispensary opened in early 2018. From there, the business expanded into Pennsylvania as a wholesaler manufacturing products for the medical market, as well as having distribution throughout the state, Gallagher said. Earlier this year, Insa began operating in Florida and the team plans to open its first stores late this summer or early fall in the Florida market.

Last year, Sara Sullivan came aboard the Insa team as the director of store experience and design for the company.

“She launched our store design and our flagship store in Springfield, Mass., which is really going to be the blueprint for our retail concepts going forward, and what we’re going to be putting into the Ohio market,” Gallagher said. “It’s been a market, we’ve been excited about and we’ve been looking for an opportunity to get into that market, and we’ve been watching it closely.”

After submitting applications to the state, Insa received a license to open its first store in Ohio in the Willoughby Hills market, said Gallagher, who hopes to open in late summer or early fall of this year, which is contingent on approvals of the state and local levels.

“We’re pushing forward as quickly as possible,” he said. “We have final construction plans we’re preparing and plan to submit to the municipality next week. We’re hoping to open as quickly as possible.”

Insa’s broker sent out multiple sites and the team searched for months for the right location, Sullivan said. When the Willoughby Hills location came across Insta’s plate, the Shoppes of Willoughby Hills felt like a good place.

“I thought it was a great center and we liked that it was free standing, out from the center,” he said. “It’s great visibility from the road and great proximity to the highway so that it’s easy to get to. Looking at the market, there wasn’t a lot of competition there that we felt like this was a really good place.”

Extensive surveys of the former Friendly’s building were conducted and drawings were able to be completed. The next big step is permitting with the Building Department, Sullivan said.

“We’ll be getting that in so we can get that reviewed,” he said. “We’ve already talked to people in the city just to get a preview of everything to make sure they were happy with what they were seeing. We anticipate going in for permits in the next week so that we can get feedback and get ready to get under construction.”

Insa has management support to make sure the Ohio project will be successful, Gallagher said, adding that the team will be investing a lot in making sure the Willoughby Hills location is a world class experience for people.

“We pride ourselves on building stores that draw people in from the surrounding communities and afar,” he said. “We have people who will drive, in Massachusetts, a couple of hours to visit our stores. It’s a comfortable environment, so it’s an opportunity for people to come and learn about cannabis, even in they’re not interested in purchasing that day.”

In an industry that’s been stigmatized for decades, a great deal of education is required, Gallagher said.

“People come in with the wrong perceptions for fears about how to use it,” he said. “We’re committed to spending as much time as a patient or customer needs in educating them on how to use our products safely and to improve their lives.”

At the time of Insa’s inception, Gallagher and his business partner were thinking it would be just a local business in western Massachusetts. Now, Insa employs 500 people across three states that are currently operating now and soon to be four with Ohio.

“It’s been a ton of fun and it’s been great building a team, and working with talented people. The passion everyone brings to this business every day is infectious,” Gallagher said.

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