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More Than Retail Therapy: How Venice Beach Serves Its Residents

Margaret Lenker |
May 10, 2014 | 3:24 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The Nile Collective is a medical marijuana dispensary in Venice Beach (by Margaret Lenker)
The Nile Collective is a medical marijuana dispensary in Venice Beach (by Margaret Lenker)
Dimly lit but tidy with bare white walls, the Nile Collective on Pacific Avenue near the Venice Beach boardwalk has a patient waiting area with unworn, brown leather couches and a large maroon Persian rug. The potent aroma of marijuana fills the air of the busy lobby. 

One Saturday afternoon a bell attached to the entrance chimed, about every three minutes, as the door to the marijuana dispensary swung open and closed. Medical marijuana patients streamed in and out, mostly young customers coming in together from the beach, leaving with small, brown paper bags tucked under their arms. 

A young, casually dressed African-American couple silently waited their turn to be called into the back room where the marijuana is sold. Despite the number of patients coming in and out, the space inside the Nile Collective remained hushed as the chiming door continued its ding.

Just across the street, on Pacific Avenue, cinnamon-colored wooden furniture crowds the small dining area of Seed Kitchen, a vegan café. The lime green walls and plastic countertops starkly contrast the natural looking tables and bookshelves. Colorful chalkboards notify customers of daily food specials and upcoming events such as cooking demos, lectures and knitting classes. Two bookshelves sit on either side of the room, displaying products for sale ranging from bamboo flatware to vegan dog food to California organic umeboshi plums. 

The door stayed propped open, but only one customer sat inside reading a tattered novel at one of the tables. The only audible sound was from the coastal breeze blowing through the entrance. A man in his twenties working the cash register said business is slow between meal times.

Venice Beach has become famous in Los Angeles as a hub for recreational drug use and for healthy living. Marijuana dispensaries (both brick-and-mortar stores and delivery trucks) are sprinkled throughout the streets of Venice. At the same time, various vegan restaurants and health food stores take up just about as much real estate. 

Venice Beach is unique in that its businesses serve consumers’ bodies and minds. The range of products available reflects a similar theme – giving a rewarding feeling for the body, deeper than just a retail high that shortly excites the mind.

A popular website and smartphone app called Weed Maps allows users to see where marijuana dispensaries are located across the United States. According to Weed Maps, there are seven brick-and-mortar dispensaries and 14 delivery service dispensaries in Venice Beach. That means there are approximately four delivery trucks and two dispensaries for every square mile of the 3.17 square mile coastal town.

The medical marijuana dispensaries and delivery trucks in Venice Beach (WeedMaps.com)
The medical marijuana dispensaries and delivery trucks in Venice Beach (WeedMaps.com)
While Weed Maps shows both brick-and-mortar and delivery service dispensaries, it is not completely accurate. Marijuana dispensaries, such as the Nile Collective, can be spotted in Venice from their signature green cross signs. Yet, the Nile Collective is not currently visible on Weed Maps.

Every dispensary in Venice offers medical strength marijuana. “The quality and strength of the marijuana that’s being dispensed at these shops is very pure and very strong,” University of Southern California adjunct professor and medical marijuana expert Peggy Stewart said. 

Whether purchased at a dispensary or off the street, marijuana provides a similar euphoric effect for users. “The person using marijuana is usually sedated to a point where they are not experiencing anxiety or stress,” Stewart said.

Shane Mandich, who has been working at the Nile Collective for two and a half years, smokes an eighth of an ounce of marijuana per day. He started using the drug in high school casually with friends, and now he smokes everyday starting right when he wakes up. 

“I smoke before I do anything,” Mandich, 25, said. “It helps me get in that mental focus state.”

Other than offering easing his stress, marijuana helps Mandich's body physically. He smokes marijuana before his workouts, which include sit-ups, pushups and straddle box jumps. 

“It deters my mind from tearing my muscles,” Mandich said. He exercises three to four times per week.

Stewart reasoned that exercising while under the influence of marijuana would make sense for someone with a physical injury, but that using it for simply psychological reasons would raise concern. 

“You can understand if someone is in pain,” Stewart said. “If they hurt their knee or their ankle and they can’t really exercise but would want to without addressing that pain.”

Erin Badger, an employee at Green Goddess Collective marijuana dispensary in Venice Beach, injured his knee defending himself from a mugger. He avoided getting jumped by kicking his attacker in the liver. While Badger, a heavy-set 33-year-old, was satisfied he protected himself, he wishes he could workout more. He uses marijuana to physically numb his knee, which allows him to exercise.

“I take a few tokes [of marijuana] if I’m going to lift weights,” Badger said.

Both Mandich and Badger use marijuana for more than just the euphoric mental state it brings them. But, marijuana is not the only product available in Venice that offers feel-good benefits. Venice Beach offers an array of services for health-conscious consumers. 

According to Yelp, a local business search engine, there are 12 juice bars in Venice Beach and 10 vegetarian restaurants, some of which also offer vegan food. 

Seed Kitchen is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (by Margaret Lenker)
Seed Kitchen is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (by Margaret Lenker)
Sanae Suzuki and her husband, chef Eric Lechasseur, opened Seed Kitchen in Venice Beach in 2008. They offer vegan, macrobiotic cuisine. The diet of macrobiotics focuses on whole grains supplemented with organic beans and sea vegetables while avoiding processed foods. Macrobiotics also encompasses a lifestyle based on balance and the Chinese principle of yin and yang. 

Suzuki began studying macrobiotics when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1993. Aided by the macrobiotic philosophy of a holistic lifestyle paired with eating natural foods, Suzuki has since recovered and wants others to discover the benefits of this way of living. Through Seed Kitchen she offers counseling to help clients embark on a macrobiotic lifestyle. 

While Suzuki helps her clients adapt to the macrobiotic lifestyle, she explained that she supports her customers in all aspects of life. 

“I’m there to support. Not just to diet, but mental and spiritual support I give [sic],” Suzuki said. “Some people need to address their emotional issues. Some people need confidence.”

Another Venice Beach entrepreneur who is focused on making customers feel better, Sage Gordon caters his healthy cuisine for local events and friends. He previously ran the Rasta Lab, an organic vegan soul food restaurant inside the recently closed Source Spiritual Center in Venice Beach. His “high-ingredient intentional cuisine” includes raw elements and is also soy free and genetically modified organism (GMO) free. 

Gordon wants his food to serve more of a purpose than satisfying a customer’s hunger. “My overall intention is to help people feel better,” Gordon said. “Within a half hour, I promise you’ll be feeling higher and better.”

Even though the Rasta Lab, short for Resource Activation Station and Transformation Acceleration Lab, is now closed, Gordon said he specifically chose to continue to serve Venice Beach because his spirit drove him there. 

“Venice Beach has always been a bit of a cultural hub for creative people and artisans and people that are pushing the boundaries of conventional wisdom,” Gordon said.

While Venice Beach is not alone in having cafes that offer vegetarian and vegan menus, Venice does have the only outdoor weight room in all of Los Angeles. The bodybuilding mecca Muscle Beach was home to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played The Incredible Hulk on TV.

People on the extreme end of the fitness scale can be seen at competitions held at Muscle Beach, just off the Venice boardwalk, year round. The gym is operated by the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department. Daily, weekly and yearly gym passes are available, and spectators can watch for free.

Inland on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a tourist attraction and popular place for residents of the West Side to eat and shop, Ascended Living Spa is nestled in the second story of a studio. This spa offers services such as live blood analysis, nutritional guidance, organic airbrush tanning and massages, but the spa’s main focus is making customers feel better. According to the spa’s website, “everything in the studio is developed with the highest level of consciousness.”

Ascended Living Spa uses products from Ascended Health, which is a church-based company operated out of California. Ascended Health sells oils, sprays, supplements, probiotics and other health products. 

According to the Ascended Health website, the company makes “all natural organic products that will help our bodies heal themselves.” The website said that its products are similar to others offered in the market place, but that its merchandise is “based on the belief that high vibrational energy imprinted on the ingredients help facilitate putting you in a higher vibrational state.” Ascended Health’s goal is to “supplement your internal energy in doing whatever your body needs to get itself healthy.”

Ascended Health emphasizes that it believes its products work, but it does not claim the products are suitable to treat any disease or condition.

Ascended Living Spa is unique in that it does not just offer services of a typical spa, but aims to make the customer feel better through practices where “science meets spirit” and use of Ascended Health products. 

Venice Beach offers many opportunities for locals to embrace their eclectic lifestyle choices. From marijuana dispensaries to vegan restaurants, Venice Beach businesses reflect the desires and needs of its inhabitants. 

“The reason I go to Venice is because no one ever judges you,” Divya Goel, who frequents Venice Beach, said. “I mean, how could they?”

Reach Staff Reporter Margaret Lenker here.

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