Northalsted's all-minority, LGBTQ-owned dispensary opens Friday

Wed. April 10, 2024 2:50 PM by Ross Forman

sway opens friday, april 12

photo credit //
SWAY, one of the first queer-owned and BIPOC-owned cannabis companies in the nation, is opening this Friday, April 12 – and we are the first media outlet to offer an inside look at the new cannabis store coming to the Lakeview neighborhood commonly called Boystown.

The new dispensary is a collaboration between cannabis equity advocate Edie Moore and LGBTQ civil rights and local business leaders Art Johnston and José “Pepe” Peña. Johnston and Peña also are the co-owners of Sidetrack.

The grand opening will include ribbon-cutting and shopping events.

“There are so few spaces built deliberately for folks like us and even fewer where we can experience the joys of legal cannabis. Ensuring representation in business ownership is a key part in keeping our communities safe and thriving,” Peña said.

“Access to cannabis is part of our history as queer people, beginning from the early days of the AIDS epidemic when people were desperate to treat the pain and ailments of both disease and early treatments,” Johnston said.

Moore added, “The ‘war on drugs’ disproportionately impacted communities of color … even worse for LGBTQ people of color. Partnering with my friends and allies, Art and Pep, we combine a beautiful commitment to equity, a passion for safe and accessible cannabis, and a drive to build more safe spaces in Chicago for folks who look like us.”

SWAY will have 20 to 30 employees who are intentionally representative of the communities that SWAY will serve, all with a deep knowledge of cannabis. “The staff and dispensary strive to destigmatize cannabis, offer uniquely curated cannabis products, and educate guests around cannabis and the leaders who paved the way for us,” said SWAY co-owner Kevin Hauswirth.

SWAY is located in the former Town Hall Pub space (3340 N. Halsted Street), which closed during the pandemic. Guests may spot elements of the old Dive Bar, though SWAY completely reimagined the space as a bright, design-forward, energizing space, Hauswirth said.

SWAY has been a year-long process since the space was approved by city zoning officials.

“Sidetrack is legendary for its playful and inclusive vibe, and inventive, sleek design featuring lighting that enhances the transformative nightclub sensory experience,” said Allan Mellske, principal I N T E R F O R M, Architecture + Design. “We looked to expand on that for the cannabis retail environment, using lighting to define the space and create an expansive sense of joy and delight found using cannabis.

“Our SWAY assignment was to preserve some of the vintage elements that gave the building its distinct charm – the brick, carved limestone and clay tile mansard roof on the façade was left to remain, and was enhanced with a new storefront, lighting and a simple large red modern sign. The worn and smoke-stained brick of the interior was preserved and left intact but gone are the grittier elements like the yellowed dropped ceiling.”

SWAY will be open daily with its longest hours on Fridays and Saturdays (from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.).

“Our people are part of such an incredible untold story, filled with unsung heroes of equality and access. We hope this space helps us tell it whether you’re interacting with a kind budtender or check out our art gallery wall featuring heroes of LGBTQ and cannabis advocacy,” said co-general manager Daveon Mason.

SWAY will offer recreational/adult-use, premium and great value cannabis products, with lots of portable options.

“As an independent dispensary, we take great pride in curating a really special experience. Guests can expect as much as possible with small, minority-owned cannabis businesses. Sharing space with Black, brown, queer and women-owned brands, we hope to help change the landscape of the cannabis industry,” said co-general manager Connie Baltzell.

SWAY will carry flower, pre-rolls, vapes, edibles, tinctures, concentrates, topicals, essentially a suite of products. Products will range from $12 to $200.

“We are getting a lot of enthusiasm for vapes, pre-rolls and edibles,” Baltzell said.

SWAY will have its own line of cannabis products, intentionally designed for guests and the community.

Mason brings 23 years of retail experience and more than 14 years working along North Halsted Street for various businesses. He will lead the staff and business in customer service, sales, events and community outreach.

Baltzell is an experienced dispensary manager with exceptional operational skills. He has been a general manager for dispensaries for three years and has managed hospitality businesses in Andersonville. Baltzell will lead the staff and business in training, operational processes, inventory management and compliance.

SWAY will always have security present and 24/7 video monitoring of the entire space.

“From leadership to budtenders, we are the community. Catering to LGBTQ and BIPOC communities is an inherent and natural part of who we are. It’s how we show up in our lives and to work, so we hope guests will feel at ease being authentic in themselves and their love of cannabis,” Mason said.

Hauswirth said SWAY’s short-term goals include making an immediate, positive impact on the community, with an engaged and friendly staff, surprise guests and exceeding expectations of what a dispensary can be. Long-term, he said SWAY will lead by example “to play a role in positive change for the industry, especially around creating more representation for folks who have been structurally left out of opportunities.”

“SWAY is the continuation of a long history of communities fighting for cannabis equity and the right to love freely,” Hauswirth said. “It is built on the strong, sassy shoulders of those who dared to challenge the status quo – the queer rule-breakers who fought for medicinal weed as a remedy against HIV, the Black and Brown activists breaking down barriers to weed despite bearing the brunt of over-criminalization and prosecution, and so many more.”

For more about SWAY: