By Kevin Zawacki
Photos by Ken Gabrielsen
Marcie Manfredonia-Siciliano didn‚Äôt enter into the CBD business to make money. She wanted others to experience the health benefits she received from the increasingly popular naturally occurring compound, which is derived from marijuana and hemp plants.
Manfredonia-Siciliano, who also runs Custom Candle Co. in Bedford Hills, had been struggling with fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes muscle pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. She was also battling anxiety. So Manfredonia-Siciliano decided to try CBD after traditional prescription medicines failed her ‚ÄĒ and it worked. Soon after, she launched a second business, CBD Live Natural, alongside Custom Candle Co.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt do it for the money,‚ÄĚ she explains. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about making people feel better.‚ÄĚ
Today, two years after opening CBD Live Natural, Manfredonia-Siciliano sells CBD oils, lotions, and creams to treat pain, reduce anxiety, and soothe skin. She even stocks CBD bubble bath concoctions and tinctures for dogs. (According to her website, the dog tinctures are ‚Äúgreat for treating pain and joint issues, relieving anxiety, and mellowing aggression.‚ÄĚ)
Despite Manfredonia-Siciliano‚Äôs seeming indifference to the profitability of her offshoot business, she hasn‚Äôt yet had to dip into the register from her other company to make ends meet: ‚ÄúIt is profitable,‚ÄĚ she confirms of her CBD venture ‚ÄĒ something few new businesses can boast.
‚ÄúWe don’t do it for the money. It’s about making people feel better.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒMarcie Manfredonia-Siciliano, Owner, CBD Live Natural
There is still some mystery surrounding CBD, but what‚Äôs clear is that its popularity is growing, with CBD products popping up all over Westchester in recent months. CBD Live Natural is one of a small but growing number of local businesses offering products featuring the substance.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is packaged and sold in many forms. But whether it‚Äôs as an oil, edible, or some other type of product available in Westchester, it won‚Äôt get you high, as these products possess little or no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Instead, they‚Äôre sold to treat inflammation, anxiety, and insomnia. Research also suggests CBD can treat more serious ailments, like seizures.
Karen Rigney, a Briarcliff-based certified holistic health coach and owner of Rigney Nutrition & Health, is encouraged by recent findings about CBD. ‚ÄúMedical research looks promising,‚ÄĚ she says, also noting that there is a lot to learn. ‚ÄúMost of the research to date has been on the negative effects of cannabis,‚ÄĚ Rigney explains, ‚Äúbut not so much on the beneficial effects of the cannabis plant.‚ÄĚ
Is CBD even legal? It‚Äôs complicated. The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized hemp at the federal level and thus also hemp-derived CBD with little or no THC content. But as The New York Times recently reported, ‚ÄúMost states‚Ä¶have yet to change their laws to match the new federal rules, leaving local police and prosecutors in a quandary over what is legal and what is not.‚ÄĚ When asked how they view CBD, the Westchester County District Attorney‚Äôs office declined to comment. But the hazy legality is not stopping¬† Westchester businesses from doing a brisk trade in CBD goods.
Lemon Balm CBD Salve from JOs Body Shop
Photo courtesy of JOs Body Shop
The Pharm Stand, which recently opened in Armonk, carries ‚Äúa diverse product offering, from tinctures, capsules, creams, and rubs to beauty products and teas, chocolates, and drinks,‚ÄĚ explains co-owner Chris Singleton. He launched the store alongside two partners ‚ÄĒ Jason Provost and Jayni Chase (wife of actor Chevy Chase) ‚ÄĒ in early 2019.
Singleton doesn‚Äôt just sell CBD; he‚Äôs also an avid consumer. ‚ÄúI got into CBD as an athlete who sees the multiple benefits: anti-inflammatory, better sleep, better recovery,‚ÄĚ says Singleton, who has run 10 marathons and completed the Ironman triathalon four times. Chase, the co-owner, uses CBD for her arthritis.
At JOs Body Shop in downtown Peekskill, owner and massage therapist Julie Overskei recently began selling CBD products, including tinctures, salves, and supplements. When she first introduced CBD products to her store, they occupied a small shelf, overshadowed by other items, like teas and candles. Today, CBD products are still a supplement to her main business, but their popularity is growing. On a recent visit to her shop, the CBD tinctures and edibles had claimed not one shelf but three and had spread elsewhere across the store.
Co-owners Chris Singleton, Jason Provost, and Jayni Chase (above, L to R) recently opened The Pharm Stand in Armonk, which sells CBD tinctures, capsules, creams, and other products.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a growing interest,‚ÄĚ Overskei says, and she‚Äôs mulling adding more products. But, she believes, the prohibitive cost ‚ÄĒ about $60 for a 500 mg tincture ‚ÄĒ is stopping the product from gaining real momentum. If more manufacturers, competition, and suppliers can bring the cost down, however, Overskei forecasts major growth. Some are already betting big on that: A fellow massage therapist Overskei knows is opening a studio in Connecticut but with a twist: all CBD products.
Competition in the local CBD business can be fierce, especially for independent retailers: ‚ÄúIt certainly has its challenges, as the large-box stores and chains add CBD products to their offerings,‚ÄĚ Singleton says. Yet, he remains confident ‚ÄĒ and ambitious: ‚ÄúWe are optimistic about the growth potential.‚ÄĚ The Pharm Stand plans to open a second location in Ridgefield by early fall.
Where smaller retailers, like The Pharm Stand and JOs, have an advantage is in the personalization they can deliver: The Armonk crew frequently find themselves playing the role of educator. ‚ÄúMany people need clarification that all CBD products sold in New York come from hemp, not marijuana,‚ÄĚ Singleton explains. ‚ÄúThe products do not make you feel ‚Äėhigh‚Äô or have a euphoric effect on the body.‚ÄĚ
Some of Westchester‚Äôs CBD merchants don‚Äôt rely on a brick-and-mortar storefront; they sell online instead. Rob Posenato and Pete Jung are the Tuckahoe-based cofounders of Hudson Valley CBD, which has been selling CBD tinctures, lotions, pills, and other items online since February 2018.
At present, a bestseller is the 1,000 mg tangerine-flavored tincture. ‚ÄúWe struggle to keep it on the shelves right now,‚ÄĚ Posenato says. There‚Äôs also a 300 mg tincture for pets. Jung regularly gives it to his 7-year-old, 150 lb rottweiler; ‚ÄúIt relieves his pain and makes him more active,‚ÄĚ Jung attests.
Jung says the two spent years prior to launch getting the business ironed out, ‚Äútrying to find organic farmers, making sure we found a suitable lab,‚ÄĚ he recalls. There were challenges, like weeding out manufacturers who made spurious claims on product labels. ‚ÄúWe ended up having to double-check a lot,‚ÄĚ Jung says.
Today, Hudson Valley CBD works with two farmers and a processing facility, all based in Colorado. From there, the product is shipped to New York. ‚ÄúMost of our customer base comes from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York ‚ÄĒ but we get sales in Arizona, California, all over,‚ÄĚ Jung says.
So far, it seems the customer profile is growing almost as fast as sales are. ‚ÄúOur demographic is early-to-mid-20s to late 30s. We also have a 50-plus group,‚ÄĚ Posenato says. ‚ÄúPeople purchasing the products tend to be active in gyms, yoga; a lot of physical therapists recommend it to their clients.‚ÄĚ
Like their fellow CBD merchants around the county, Posenato and Jung have learned to navigate a space where consumers are skeptical about both claims and legality. ‚ÄúWe have lab results that show the amount of cannabinoid in each product,‚ÄĚ Posenato says, ‚Äúso we can prove to people that it is a legal product.‚ÄĚ Education is ‚Äúa very, very, very big part of our job,‚ÄĚ Posenato continues. The duo answer questions on Facebook and Instagram frequently and even have a customer-service line. ‚ÄúWe get at least five to 10 calls a day,‚ÄĚ Posenato says.
As to whether Westchester‚Äôs current crop of CBD businesses are bellwethers of a big emerging market or just a trendy flavor-of-the-month, Singleton of The Pharm Stand is convinced it‚Äôs the former. ‚ÄúCBD products will continue to show up in more and more stores,‚ÄĚ he says.
But Victor Petenkemani, associate dean at Mercy College‚Äôs School of Business, is a little less bullish. ‚ÄúThe challenge for the industry is from a legal standpoint,‚ÄĚ he explains. Since stances on CBD ‚ÄĒ and marijuana more broadly ‚ÄĒ vary from state to state, Petenkemani says it will be tough for CBD to gain a major foothold.
Mark Frieder, a CBD distributor based in Croton-on-Hudson, may have the best vantage point: Heading into his third year of business, he‚Äôs the link between local retailers, like JOs Body Shop, and CBD manufacturers. ‚ÄúTwo years makes me an old-timer‚ÄĚ in the CBD industry, he jokes.
Frieder works with about 10 retailers in Westchester and says CBD products are starting to show up in more mainstream places: ‚ÄúI do events; I do farmers‚Äô markets,‚ÄĚ he explains.
He acknowledges that the legal environment presents a challenge but believes the CBD business‚Äôs worst growing pains may be in the past. Frieder says that consumers and clients who were once wary are now refilling orders regularly. ‚ÄúThere are concerns there could be licensing or permits needed from the state and that the FDA may impose initiatives, but at the end of the day, everything is federally legal.
‚ÄúThere was a lot of trepidation and confusion at the beginning,‚ÄĚ Frieder adds. Since it became federally legal, and products are¬† more readily available, he says, ‚Äúthere‚Äôs more hype, people are more comfortable taking it on.‚ÄĚ
Freelance writer Kevin Zawacki is a frequent contributor to 914INC.