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‘Budtenders’ and bringing back the general store

‘Budtenders’ and bringing back the general store

  • This story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of COMO Magazine.
The Case For Innovation

In the March 2023 issue of COMO Magazine, you’ll learn about all kinds of whiz bang discoveries, medical breakthroughs, engineering feats — the latest and greatest coming out of COMO.

But often some industries and institutions seem firmly planted in yesteryear. Many of us can appreciate tradition, like historic architecture, vintage clothing, or the feel of a paper magazine in one’s hands. But like downtown buildings, sometimes it’s historic and other times just old and run down.

There’s an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. The recent pandemic upended a lot of stuff, and inspired many audibles to be called. Working from home became a necessity to keep up productivity when people couldn’t physically gather together. While some were scrambling, others had been doing remote work since before it became cool. Since workplaces reopened again, many employers, and employees, have rethought what collective workspaces they really need, or need to pay for.

Hybrid work has now set in as a more permanent fixture of modern work in many sectors. Gross generalizations are tough, as the tasks to be done and people doing them differ greatly.

A significant industry here in COMO is Education, a field ripe for innovative disruption.

COVID especially challenged K-12 schools which have an operational model dependent on gathering large numbers of students together in centralized facilities. Those institutions were simply not equipped to elegantly flip a switch to remote learning.

Illustration Of Human Head With Shapes Floating Around

Some households really struggled. Some hunkered down and toughed it out, while other parents got creative, turning lemons into lemonade. Some grouped neighbor kids together into mini home classrooms or “pods.” Some discovered that they liked this better than “regular” school.

The standard classroom units of 20+ kids of similar age with desks facing a teacher or blackboard/screen is a model over a century old. Lectures manually repeated in each class session from an in-person instructor, then homework to figure out examples on your on. 

A “flip classroom” however uses technology to turn this model on its head. World-class instructors can record their lectures regardless of their location, and kids watch that at home on their tablet whenever as “homework.” Then during the school day in the classroom collectively, the teacher instead helps with workbook exercises and guides lab experiments, maximizing personal interactions.

Medical innovation of interest is usually curing cancer, some surgical robot, or further mapping out the genetic code. But the delivery of health services is fertile ground, too. Telehealth is here to stay: to supplement, or somewhat replace, traditional doctor appointments or urgent care visits. Trained medical professionals to help triage flu-like symptoms, a skin ailment, or a baby’s persistent cough at 3AM are low hanging fruit for this technology.

Many corners of rural Missouri are considered health care deserts. While telehealth can help, in-person providers are still often necessary. 

Nurse practitioners are highly skilled and licensed medical professionals who can address many day-to-day health needs. Old rules might require them to stay on a leash within x miles of a sponsoring MD. This is a matter of life and death for thousands of Missourians, so maybe underserved areas could be declared medical disaster zones, opening up opportunities for more entrepreneurial nurses.

Maybe one contract they score is being the on-call school nurse for a small school district. Maybe they would be allowed to convert a spare classroom into an urgent care clinic, one door into the school hallway, the other facing out to a half empty parking lot to welcome the public. 

The US Postal Service is slowly going broke. While more postal locations near COMO are needed to serve the well over 100,000 residents here, some small villages with 200 people still have their own dedicated legacy postal shack, and often a designated postmaster.

At the Boone County Historical Society, there is a blast from the past which should be reimplemented today. An old dry goods general store displays everything from flour to overalls, buckets to oil lamps. And in the corner is a block of a few dozen post office boxes where locals got their mail. The same clerk that sold nails and Easter bonnets could shift over and sell stamps, too.

A lot of small towns don’t have a full service grocer but they might have a Casey’s General Store, Break Time, etc. Let them bid on having a post office counter, too. These would serve a lot of people better and save a lot of money.

One market that is blooming is legalized cannabis (the historic name for marijuana). With medicinal sales opening up a few years ago, such specialty retailers (called dispensaries) popped up all around town. Now, jokes aside, recreational (aka “adult use”) is expected to roll out in a big way. 

And we are seeing the integration of this newly legalized industry go mainstream. Operators are renting commercial retail space and competing with other area businesses for employees. Sales associates known as “budtenders,” along with business managers, logistics professionals, security guards for all that cash on hand and compliance officers to navigate complex regulations.

Look for businesses in this industry to further integrate with our local business community, as they join the Chamber of Commerce, and reporters write up front page company profile features.

In other states, based on what is allowed there, some cannabis retailers innovate by adding on a lounge for customers to sample products onsite, or just hangout. Think what Logboat Brewing Company has done with its attached bar, plus recreation space, which it keeps expanding as more customers continue to flock there.

Whether a public or private organization, new or old, there’s always room for improvement. 


Steve Spellman is a lifelong Columbia-area resident and political observer.

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