The Unique Experience of Working at Union Square Travel Agency: New York’s Cannabis Dispensary

If you happened to pass by the Union Square Travel Agency on a Thursday in February, you might mistake it for any other employee training session. However, this establishment is far from ordinary. It stands as one of New York’s pioneering legal cannabis dispensaries, providing customers with access to adult-use marijuana.

Over 50 newly hired workers gathered that day, ready to learn a job that, until recently, didn’t exist in the state of New York. Mike Conway, the vice president of retail at Union Square Travel Agency, shared that he had initially received over 1,000 applications for about 50 available positions. Interestingly, past cannabis use was neither a requirement nor a hindrance in the selection process.

Union Square Travel Agency: A Unique Transformation

Union Square Travel Agency, located on East 13th Street, swiftly transformed a vacant space into a bustling retail store within a few weeks last winter. This dispensary emerged as one of New York’s first cannabis retailers, setting the stage for a new era in the city’s cannabis industry.

The overwhelming response to the job openings at Union Square Travel Agency demonstrates the increasing interest and enthusiasm surrounding the cannabis market. While knowledge about cannabis products is essential for the employees, their personal history of cannabis use did not play a significant role in the hiring process. Instead, it served as a means for management to gauge the starting point of each employee’s understanding.

Thorough Training for a Unique Market

The training sessions at Union Square Travel Agency combine the atmosphere of a college seminar with the hands-on experience of an immersive learning environment. Employees diligently take notes and actively participate, familiarizing themselves with the store’s product line and the intricacies of the cannabis industry.

As per state regulations, staff members must undergo comprehensive training, covering various aspects such as recognizing signs of impairment, identifying fake identification documents, and understanding the science behind cannabis. The training also delves into essential topics like decarboxylation and different methods of distillation, ensuring employees possess a well-rounded knowledge base.

Budtenders: The Cannabis Connoisseurs

Dispensary associates, often referred to as budtenders, hold a vital role in providing customers with valuable insights and recommendations. Similar to bartenders, these knowledgeable professionals are expected to be well-versed in the effects of different cannabis products, including potency, taste, and the duration of the high.

Union Square Travel Agency took advantage of the early issuance of retail licenses last fall, rapidly transforming its premises into a fully operational cannabis shop. The store’s design adheres to strict state regulations governing product displays, security camera placement, and visibility of cannabis from outside. Notably, due to federal restrictions, customers cannot use credit cards for their purchases.

Embracing New York’s Cannabis Market

Union Square Travel Agency prides itself on sourcing all its products from within New York. The dispensary offers a wide range of options, catering to various consumer preferences. Dave Vautrin, the operating partner of Union Square Travel Agency, revealed the extensive selection of products, from gummies and vape pens to beverages and THC diamonds—a highly potent concentrate.

While smokable cannabis, commonly known as flower, remains popular, alternative products have gained significant traction. Union Square Travel Agency emphasizes edibles that are not readily available in illicit shops, providing consumers with unique choices.

Social Equity and Industry Challenges

In alignment with the cannabis industry’s commitment to social equity, Union Square Travel Agency has hired employees who previously worked in the illicit market. One employee named Kirk, who preferred to be identified by his first name only, shared his experience of transitioning from being a street dealer to a dispensary associate. Kirk emphasized that in neighborhoods where marijuana is prevalent, it often becomes an alternative source of income for individuals who struggle to find employment opportunities.

In the fledgling cannabis industry of New York, such past experiences are viewed as assets rather than liabilities. The emphasis on social equity within the industry aims to provide opportunities to those who have been historically impacted by cannabis-related legal issues.

Union Square Travel Agency stands out among the limited number of legal dispensaries that have opened statewide. As of now, only eight legal shops operate in New York. The dispensary, majority-owned by the Doe Fund, is one of three run by nonprofits that prioritize serving individuals with prior records related to marijuana.

The competition from illicit shops remains a significant challenge for legal dispensaries. Illicit shops can be found on almost every city block, posing a direct threat to the success of legal establishments. The Union Square Travel Agency, with its strong foundation in social equity and adherence to state regulations, is working hard to navigate these obstacles and establish itself as a trusted and reputable destination for cannabis enthusiasts.

While the cannabis industry shares similarities with traditional businesses in terms of training structures and corporate practices, it distinguishes itself through a distinct and vibrant culture. At Union Square Travel Agency, the training environment is anything but stuffy. The staff employs a conversational and engaging approach, abandoning coded language and instead focusing on providing an enjoyable experience for both employees and customers.

One unique aspect of the training program is that employees are sent home with cannabis products to sample. This hands-on approach allows them to familiarize themselves with the range of products and better understand their effects, thereby enhancing their ability to serve customers.

“We’re using similar training structures that you would see in a corporate environment, but it’s not stuffy. We’re not using coded language. We’re selling weed,” said Mike Conway, the vice president of retail at Union Square Travel Agency. “It’s really fun.”


Union Square Travel Agency has established itself as one of New York’s pioneering legal cannabis dispensaries, offering a unique experience for both employees and customers. With rigorous training programs, knowledgeable budtenders, and a commitment to social equity, the dispensary aims to provide high-quality products and exceptional service to cannabis enthusiasts.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve and regulations adapt, Union Square Travel Agency stands at the forefront, navigating the challenges and opportunities that come with operating in this rapidly expanding market. By embracing the dynamic nature of the cannabis industry, the dispensary sets itself apart and creates a memorable and engaging experience for all who enter its doors.

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