Long-time proponent of legalization opens Altered Nation Cannabis in downtown Orangeville

February 8, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

A downtown business owner who’s long been associated with the marijuana industry, operating a headshop and counterculture boutique in Orangeville for over 25 years, recently opened a cannabis retail outlet.  

Just in time for the new year, Shayne MacDonald opened Altered Nation Cannabis (218 Broadway, Unit 2) on Dec. 31, providing a one-stop shop for connoisseurs of the plant. It abuts his other business, the Altered Nation, which has sold pipes, bongs, and other equipment used for smoking cannabis or tobacco since 1997.

That store also offers a wide selection of counter-culture clothing, jewellery, home décor, and unique products from around the world, in addition to tattoo and piercing services.

MacDonald’s has long been a proponent of cannabis legalization, which led him to open Orangeville’s very first headshop under the name The Altered Native.

He says opening a cannabis store felt like a natural progression of what he’s always done, provide a non-judgemental, warm and welcoming space for people who smoke.

“And we’re not afraid to show the kind of propaganda and history that made cannabis illegal in the first place,” said MacDonald. “We’ve been in this space for a long time, and what a lot of cannabis shops think is kind of taboo, we do here.”

Altered Nation Cannabis has a different feel than other stores within Orangeville. Upon walking through the door, customers are welcomed with several iconic High Times magazine covers framed on the wall. Once past the entrance, a colourful, somewhat psychedelic mural meets the eyes, wrapping around the wall, creating a unique vibe that separates the dispensary from other local outlets.

“We’re new. So, we’re still touching up paint in some spots, adding to the décor, and things like that. We’re trying to make it an even more kind of cozy, welcoming space. That’s what we really want it to be,” said Melissa Ciraco, who’s worked at Altered Nation (formerly Altered Native) for 25 years, and now works at the cannabis store. 

“We didn’t want that clinical feeling or that Apple Store feeling that you get from a lot of the dispensaries where you just go in and look up the products on an iPad, or you go and look at a menu. Yes, we have that too, but we want to interact with our customers. We don’t want to hide behind the counter and wait for them to ask – we talk to them.”

The menu at Altered Nation Cannabis is hand-selected by its staff and based on the recommendations of customers.

With thousands of products available through the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), MacDonald said he had to carefully curate the menu to hone in on what customers want the most.

If there’s a product that Altered Nation Cannabis doesn’t have, he’s happy to send customers to another local cannabis store to make sure they get what they need.

A unique aspect of Altered Nation Cannabis is that it sells an extensive line of hydroponic equipment, nutrients, tools and seeds for growing marijuana, unlike other cannabis stores in the area.

Since opening, MacDonald says business has been steady, as many of the regular customers of Altered Nation have long been waiting for him to open a cannabis shop. Since legalization began in late 2018, MacDonald has been trying to acquire a license.

“It was a long process for us to get the space open,” he said. “We’ve had people waiting and waiting for us, asking, ‘when is it going to be open?’ So we’ve got a lot of customers who are pretty happy that we’re finally here.”

MacDonald said the store has formed countless relationships with customers who have been shopping at the Altered Nation over the years. The staff listen to what they need and try to accommodate as best they can. But Altered Nation Cannabis manager Allisson Bass, who’s worked in the main store for years, said the relationship extends beyond just finding what customers need.

“I think some people come in here just for that sense of community, that like family [connection],” said Bass. 

Altered Nation has always been an inclusive and welcoming space for people from all walks of life, noted MacDonald.

“We’ve had lots of people that, if they don’t have any friends, they come and hang out in the shop – and they always have,” he remarked. 

The Altered Nation has been in its current location on Broadway for around 10 years, operating in other locations in Orangeville previously.

The store was born out of MacDonald’s fascination with Young Street headshops in Toronto as well as the hardcore punk/metal scene.

His cousin was a tattoo artist, so he thought the two businesses would pair well together, by displaying pipes, bongs, incense, t-shirts and other products in the front and offering tattoos in the back.

“That way, when people came in to get a tattoo, they had no choice but to kind of look around at everything while they’re waiting,” said MacDonald. 

There are tattoo artists still with Altered Nation who began working there 10 to 15 years ago.

Going forward, MacDonald said he plans to attend festivals in the summer to display his wares. Although, it won’t be smoking accessories. Instead, he’ll focus on selling counterculture clothing from the Altered Nation that’s imported from other countries. Some garments make pop culture references, while others have more of a punk, metal, hip-hop or hippie theme.

MacDonald said he’d encourage anyone who hasn’t been into the Altered Nation or his new dispensary to stop by.

“If you’re wanting to find a similar sort of [shopping] experience, you probably have to go to Queen Street West [in Toronto] and travel, five or six blocks,” he said. “We sell a lot of stuff that you can’t find, even in Toronto. I’ve been buying stuff from around the world for a long time.”

Ciraco added, “This building has become really an ultimate, one stop shop for people.”

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