Behind the Buzz of CBD in Westchester

Across the county, a cottage industry around CBD products has sprung up. Can it evolve into a full-fledged force?

Courtesy Custom Candle Co.

Across the county, a cottage industry around CBD products has sprung up. Can it evolve into a full-fledged force?

Marcie Manfredonia-Siciliano didn’t 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 — and it worked. Soon after, she launched a second business, CBD Live Natural, alongside Custom Candle Co.

“We don’t do it for the money,” she explains. “It’s about making people feel better.”

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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 “great for treating pain and joint issues, relieving anxiety, and mellowing aggression.”)

Despite Manfredonia-Siciliano’s seeming indifference to the profitability of her offshoot business, she hasn’t yet had to dip into the register from her other company to make ends meet: “It is profitable,” she confirms of her CBD venture — something few new businesses can boast.

Courtesy Custom Candle Co.

“We don’t do it for the money. It’s about making people feel better.”

—Marcie Manfredonia-Siciliano, Owner, CBD Live Natural

There is still some mystery surrounding CBD, but what’s 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’s as an oil, edible, or some other type of product available in Westchester, it won’t get you high, as these products possess little or no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Instead, they’re 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. “Medical research looks promising,” she says, also noting that there is a lot to learn. “Most of the research to date has been on the negative effects of cannabis,” Rigney explains, “but not so much on the beneficial effects of the cannabis plant.”

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Is CBD even legal? It’s 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, “Most states…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.” When asked how they view CBD, the Westchester County District Attorney’s 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 | Photo courtesy of JOs Body Shop

The Pharm Stand, which recently opened in Armonk, carries “a diverse product offering, from tinctures, capsules, creams, and rubs to beauty products and teas, chocolates, and drinks,” explains co-owner Chris Singleton. He launched the store alongside two partners — Jason Provost and Jayni Chase (wife of actor Chevy Chase) — in early 2019.

Singleton doesn’t just sell CBD; he’s also an avid consumer. “I got into CBD as an athlete who sees the multiple benefits: anti-inflammatory, better sleep, better recovery,” 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 (L to R) recently opened The Pharm Stand in Armonk, which sells CBD tinctures, capsules, creams, and other products. | Courtesy The Pharm Stand

“There’s a growing interest,” Overskei says, and she’s mulling adding more products. But, she believes, the prohibitive cost — about $60 for a 500 mg tincture — 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.

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Competition in the local CBD business can be fierce, especially for independent retailers: “It certainly has its challenges, as the large-box stores and chains add CBD products to their offerings,” Singleton says. Yet, he remains confident — and ambitious: “We are optimistic about the growth potential.” 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. “Many people need clarification that all CBD products sold in New York come from hemp, not marijuana,” Singleton explains. “The products do not make you feel ‘high’ or have a euphoric effect on the body.”

Some of Westchester’s CBD merchants don’t 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.

Courtesy The Pharm Stand

At present, a bestseller is the 1,000 mg tangerine-flavored tincture. “We struggle to keep it on the shelves right now,” Posenato says. There’s also a 300 mg tincture for pets. Jung regularly gives it to his 7-year-old, 150 lb rottweiler; “It relieves his pain and makes him more active,” Jung attests.

Jung says the two spent years prior to launch getting the business ironed out, “trying to find organic farmers, making sure we found a suitable lab,” he recalls. There were challenges, like weeding out manufacturers who made spurious claims on product labels. “We ended up having to double-check a lot,” 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. “Most of our customer base comes from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York — but we get sales in Arizona, California, all over,” Jung says.

So far, it seems the customer profile is growing almost as fast as sales are. “Our demographic is early-to-mid-20s to late 30s. We also have a 50-plus group,” Posenato says. “People purchasing the products tend to be active in gyms, yoga; a lot of physical therapists recommend it to their clients.”

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. “We have lab results that show the amount of cannabinoid in each product,” Posenato says, “so we can prove to people that it is a legal product.” Education is “a very, very, very big part of our job,” Posenato continues. The duo answer questions on Facebook and Instagram frequently and even have a customer-service line. “We get at least five to 10 calls a day,” Posenato says.

As to whether Westchester’s 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’s the former. “CBD products will continue to show up in more and more stores,” he says.

But Victor Petenkemani, associate dean at Mercy College’s School of Business, is a little less bullish. “The challenge for the industry is from a legal standpoint,” he explains. Since stances on CBD — and marijuana more broadly — vary from state to state, Petenkemani says it will be tough for CBD to gain a major foothold.

Courtesy Hudson Valley CBD

Mark Frieder, a CBD distributor based in Croton-on-Hudson, may have the best vantage point: Heading into his third year of business, he’s the link between local retailers, like JOs Body Shop, and CBD manufacturers. “Two years makes me an old-timer” 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: “I do events; I do farmers’ markets,” he explains.

He acknowledges that the legal environment presents a challenge but believes the CBD business’s worst growing pains may be in the past. Frieder says that consumers and clients who were once wary are now refilling orders regularly. “There 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.

“There was a lot of trepidation and confusion at the beginning,” Frieder adds. Since it became federally legal, and products are  more readily available, he says, “there’s more hype, people are more comfortable taking it on.”

Freelance writer Kevin Zawacki is a frequent contributor to 914INC.

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