Cookies says L.A. marijuana store will close amid landlord spat

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Image of Berner's appearance at MJBizCon

Cookies CEO and co-founder Berner makes a Main Stage appearance at MJBizCon 2022. (Photo by Ben Zimmerman, Las Vegas Event Photography)

Prominent brand Cookies’ retail marijuana store in Los Angeles plans to close Nov. 7, co-founder and cannabis entrepreneur Berner has announced on social media.

The closure would be at least the second to affect a Cookies-branded outlet in 2023.

A separately owned and managed location in Oklahoma City closed this spring.

California-based Cookies licenses its familiar light-blue branding and proprietary, highly recognizable marijuana strains to separate businesses that hold state licenses around the U.S. and handle day-to-day operations under a franchise model.

But the situation in west Los Angeles – where Cookies Melrose’s landlord is asking for a hefty rent increase, according to people familiar with the situation as well as a publicly available real estate listing – underscores how even the sector’s biggest names are not immune to the cannabis industry’s wider struggles.

In a recent Instagram post, Berner said he “dreaded this day and having to make this announcement.”

“This one hurts,” according to the post by the San Francisco Bay Area-based entrepreneur, whose given name is Gilbert Milam Jr.

Cookies “tried our hardest but we haven’t been able to come to terms with our landlord,” Berner continued, adding that a search for a new location is ongoing but might take some time.

“I want to thank my partners at melrose for this opportunity and for fighting so hard to try and keep it.”

In a follow-up post two days later, a Cookies corporate account said the store was “relocating,” with a new address and opening date to be announced “coming soon.”

Business records list Berner as a Cookies director.

Parker Berling is the organization’s CEO and president, records show.

Cookies Melrose is operated by a California company called Purple Heart Compassion, according to records from the state’s Department of Cannabis Control.

That company’s principals are Arman Arakelyan and Steve Pineda, California secretary of state business records show.

Arkelyan and Pineda did not respond to an MJBizDaily email sent to an address listed in state records.

The Oklahoma City dispensary, which was managed by a national retail chain called TRP, closed this year, Grasslands spokesperson Martha Marshall confirmed to MJBizDaily on behalf of Cookies.

“After much evaluation, we made the tough call to focus our retail efforts in other markets,” Marshall noted.

Cookies Oklahoma City’s social media accounts have been dormant since March, when state voters rejected an adult-use legalization initiative.

However, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority told MJBizDaily that the license is active and pending renewal.

TRP still manages more than 20 other Cookies-branded retail outlets in other markets, including Florida, spokesperson Ken Loo told MJBizDaily.

In all, there are 67 cannabis outlets operating under the Cookies brand “worldwide,” with additional openings planned in New Mexico and in Maine, Marshall said.

The Melrose outlet, located in western Los Angeles close to West Hollywood and its strong tradition of legal marijuana, might be one of the Cookies brand’s most prominent physical presences.

Cookies has a clothing store in Manhattan in New York City and marijuana shops in Las Vegas and San Francisco, but Los Angeles is considered one of the country’s largest legal markets.

The Melrose store opened to enormous crowds and huge lines that drew the ire of neighbors.

It was also vandalized and robbed during the spring 2020 protests of George Floyd’s murder.

After enjoying a high-flying run of success, Cookies has run into legal trouble this year during the marijuana industry’s overall downturn.

The company was sued in Los Angeles County Superior Court by two different sets of investors who alleged that Milam, Berling and other company principals used investor cash as a sort of slush fund to bankroll lavish personal habits.

Company officials have, for the most part, rejected the allegations.

Those suits are pending.

Sometime earlier this spring, Cookies’ landlord at the Melrose Avenue location listed the roughly 3,300-square-foot store for lease.

The asking price was $7 per square foot, with an opening date of Sept. 1, according to a listing posted on LoopNet, a popular commercial real estate website.

Real estate agents connected with the listing did not return an MJBizDaily email seeking comment.

Chris Roberts can be reached at chris.roberts@mjbizdaily.com.