LONDONDERRY — Kellie D'Elia-Laskin is a shining example of what true mettle really looks like.
The widowed, single mom and entrepreneur was on the cusp of opening her new cannabis shop at 2022 North Main St., when a state of emergency was declared in Vermont as epic flooding engulfed Londonderry on July 10.
All D'Elia-Laskin's hard work since she signed a lease on April 20 with Center Merrill for the old service station, where she planned to open Green Mountain Therapeutics, was washed away as the nearby West River overflowed its banks.
She had hoped to open the shop by her son's 17th birthday in July.
A daunting task
Since the flooding, D'Elia-Laskin has had to face numerous challenges.
Notably, because cannabis is still prohibited at the federal level as a Schedule I drug, the business can't receive federal flood grants, loans, or other economic relief.
She is paying to build out her business alone, the building owner didn't have flood insurance, and although she was pre-qualified to open the business in preparation for full licensure, she can't buy her own insurance until the business is licensed by the state Cannabis Control Board (CCB).
So she has had to start again.
"This industry is tough enough to get into in general, it's all private funding - there are no grants, no federal loans," she says. "The industry is not federally legal, so it's not like opening a liquor store. I'm 100% the owner and financier, and I don't have very deep pockets to begin with."
What D'Elia-Laskin does have is tenacity. And determination. And hope.
Now her goal is to get her license and open the shop by Sept. 30, the eighth anniversary of her builder husband's death 10 days after pancreas surgery, which he needed after losing his spleen on a work site.
Six days before the rain came relentlessly, D'Elia-Laskin had scheduled electric and rough framing inspections. The next step would have been for the CCB to inspect and possibly approve her full license.
"But the universe had another idea," D'Elia-Laskin says with a wry laugh.
The entrepreneur says she recently started watching the Netflix series Painkiller, a drama about the opioid epidemic.
"I lived that, and that's why I'm doing this," she says of her choice to be part of the cannabis industry. "The days my husband would smoke pot were good days. The days he was on oxycontin and all that junk, not so much. I witnessed firsthand the benefits of this product."
She's inspired to rebuild and bring the business to fruition for her son.
"I feel like if I just curled up in a ball, it would be so disrespectful to who we were as a couple, to the dad I need now to be, and to who he was," she says of her late husband. "You have to set the example for your kids."
And the community has stepped up to support the 53-year-old and her son.
Born in Cheshire, Massachusetts, D'Elia-Laskin attended Green Mountain College in Poultney and then moved west, where she met her husband, Bradley Laskin.
After living in Colorado and Tahoe, Nevada, where her son was born and she lost her spouse, she returned to be closer to family in a place that offered the same outdoor beauty and activities she and her son enjoy.
"It seemed a reasonable place to do all the things we liked to do, at a more reasonable price tag for a single mom," she says, adding that then Covid came along and made things "more expensive."
Still, she's persevering.
"We've really had to start over," she says, adding Merrill, the cannabis shop's landlord, has been "super helpful."
Starting again has included tearing back the building even more than was initially done because of the nature of the flooding.
"We've pivoted a little out of necessity," she says, noting that instead of installing planned hardwood floors, now the shop has concrete flooring. "The CCB expects you to be a little more environmentally resistant so we're going above and beyond most expectations for this industry."
Vermonters helping Vermonters
After the flood, dozens of volunteers have stepped up with supplies and encouragement.
"What's been kind of cool, in a weird sort of way, is I was trying to be low-key about what I was doing because you don't know how people are going to react to this industry," D'Elia-Laskin says.
"But the overwhelming, positive embracement I've had from the community has been just amazing - from the women at the church across the street to the concrete people," she continues. "In the first couple of weeks, the food was just amazing and kept us going. You can't even think about feeding yourself when you're in crisis."
But time has passed, and D'Elia-Laskin says she realizes "people are back to their lives now."
"I feel bad asking for help because people have to go back to their regularly scheduled existences," she says. "I also know other people lost far more than we did, but it was still quite a hit for us. It was like $8,000 for the concrete floor that wasn't in my budget. For some people, that's not much, but for me it was."
A lot of times she says, "people assume that due to the nature of the industry, I have a bunch of money or a bunch of investors. And that's just not the case."
To help, friends have set up a GoFundMe profile for the family at bit.ly/727-cannabis.
As of Aug. 15, $4,225 of a $30,000 goal has been donated to help D'Elia-Laskin buy what's needed to get to CCB approval and open the shop door.
"Thank you all that have donated," D'Elia-Laskin posted this week on the GoFundMe website. "It's been a journey, for sure. Funding is still one of the biggest hurtles to recovery and rebuilding so that I may open my little shop and provide for my son."
She praised Record Concrete "for squeezing me in with my new sustainable and more flood-resistant flooring."
When it opens, Green Mountain Therapeutics will offer everything available "seed to sale," which means products offered must come from Vermont-licensed growers or manufacturers.
"It's Vermonters helping Vermonters be self-sustaining," she says.
"Given a chance, I believe that Kellie's business will bring so much value to our community," writes Myra Adams of Hidden Leaf Homestead. "She has been restoring a building that has been vacant and in disrepair for I'm not sure how long - as long as I've lived here. She will be providing jobs and meeting 'positive impact' criteria required by the CCB."
D'Elia-Laskin, Adams says, "will be contributing to our local economy and driving traffic to our little town that will benefit other area businesses, including growers like myself. She will also be providing a local resource for those that choose natural remedies over manufactured ones. And she will be paying more than her fair share of fees and taxes, because that's how it is in the legal cannabis market."
A Pilates instructor for 30 years who was the first to teach pelvic floor Pilates, D'Elia-Laskin says she also hopes to offer classes down the road.
"I like to help people feel good in their bodies," she says.
This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.