Recreational cannabis has been sold legally in Oregon since October 1, 2015; since January 1, 2017, dispensaries have been required to apply for and receive licenses from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. In early January, the Portland Business Journal reported* that the OLCC had received 1,907 recreational marijuana license applications in 2016, and that the total number of licensed retailers had more than doubled in 2016, from 99 to 260.**
One of those green rush beneficiaries is Serra, which opened its first store in Portland in 2016 and which now operates a second Portland store as well as one in Eugene, home of the University of Oregon.
The stores have been praised for their high-end aesthetics (“The most sophisticated cannabis dispensary in the city, if not the country: – Wallpaper. “When you leave Serra, the feeling is similar to leaving Anthropologie: slightly numbed by the curated beauty of the place, a sense of being underdressed, but without the guilt of paying too much for something you'll ruin in one smoke sesh” – the Potlander, which is not a typo). And the verbal identity is similarly bar-raising: no “leaf” pun, no 420 variation, no “green,” no “bud,” no “Mary Jane.”
But where does “Serra” come from, and what does it mean?
If you’re a Californian like me, your first association was probably Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded the California missions and who was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis. Schools, streets, highways, and natural landmarks here are named after him.
But that’s not where the Oregon Serra got its name.
Serra matchbook via Brand New blog.
Here’s what the design firm Official Mfg. Co. – which “named, developed, and concepted the entire brand,” and which hand-rendered the typeface (dubbed “Wonky Sans”) – told the Brand New blog:
“Serra” translates from Italian to “greenhouse,” which was our inspiration for many of our aesthetic choices. Our client came to us wanting to create an elegant, high-end cannabis experience, so we used of the materials of a greenhouse as our foundation: glass, iron, brass, plants, and wood.
This is an elegant and distinctive name choice: It’s concise, it’s meaningful, it avoids the industry clichés, and it has a little mystery – not a bad thing when you’re selling products cloaked in a whiff of sin. This is a name you could bestow on a spendy (as they say in Portland) clothing boutique or an all-the-amenities hotel.
I like the name, but the Serra brand as a whole teeters on the tightrope between elegance and preciousness. Here, for example, is the company’s brand director, Cambria Benson Noecker, in conversation with Dope magazine (a decidedly non-precious name):
We purposefully [sic – she means purposely] stayed away from the use of green, and chose Yves Klein Blue as our brand color. Our tagline “Purveyors of Quality Drugs” is a nod to cannabis’ history as an apothecary staple.
* The byline on this story is Peter Danko, which is almost too perfect.