The Elegance of Weed: Mother Earth–Architecture Critic Morgan

Saturday, January 07, 2023


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Sales floor at Mother Earth Wellness. PHOTO: Will Morgan


Now that cannabis sales are legal in Rhode Island, a “newly licensed compassion center” speaks for the marijuana industry. If the Mother Earth Wellness store in Pawtucket is any indication, Mary Jane has gone mainstream, even upscale. It is remarkable how a well-designed image–a new logo, a handsome building, or thoughtful interior layout–can change our perception of a previously illegal product and the once unwholesome reputation of its merchants.



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Mother Earth Wellness, Pawtucket. PHOTO: Will Morgan


The official legality, plus wide public acceptance of cannabis sales, changes the delivery of recreational marijuana; it has given the business a chance to present a responsible face to the world. From the green symbol of a cannabis leaf that forms the headdress of a Native American maiden’s profile to the Swiss-like efficiency of the medical dispensary, Mother Earth is a visual treat–worth checking out even if you are not going in search of pre-rolls, edibles, or dark chocolate strawberry center truffles. Those expecting some sort of grungy smoke shop will be pleasantly surprised.


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Narragansett Machine Shop. Courtesy:


The handsome entrance masks what was once the Narragansett Machine Shop, a factory that made lathes, tennis rackets, and fabricated parts for street railway cars. About twenty years ago, Mother Earth developers Eddy Keegan and Joe Pakuris purchased the 1889 machine shop for their Kitchen Countertop Top Center of New England, a business that shares the former mill with the new cannabis dispensary. The upper story of the Pawtucket mill is used for Mother Earth’s in-house laboratory and kitchen.


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PHOTO: Will Morgan


It has been a long time since graduate school days during the Vietnam War (think a bag of dubious weed scored from a fraternity brother), but given Mother Earth’s less than salubrious location, I can report that 125 Esten Avenue offers some of the romance associated with the backstreet search for grass half a century ago. The store is not that easy to get to, lying as it does amidst the industrial scruffiness of the marginal no-man’s-land on the eastern flank of I-95. From North Main, you turn at a pile of bricks where a former mill was demolished, go down an empty track, then turn up Esten past a variety of businesses in factories. Across the street from Mother Earth is a handsome mill that has been converted to residential lofts. Despite its poetic ash-can quality, this is not the sort of neighborhood you would hang out in after dark.


Contemporary display kiosks at Mother Earth. PHOTO: Will Morgan


The speakeasy quality of a journey to Mother Earth is apparent in the low-ceilinged entrance, where uniformed guards ask for your I.D. Yet, move into the main shopping area and you are suddenly in a retail space that is a cross between an elegant New York boutique and an outdoorsy California outfitter. More jewelry store than nightclub, the atmosphere is enhanced by the exposed structural timber framing of the 134-year-old mill. Beneath the wooden ceiling (punctuated by skylights, as there are no windows to the outside) are glazed display boxes. These free-standing elements are raised on plinths, while hidden foundation lighting make them appear to float. Additional displays are wrapped around the vertical wooden factory supports. Rows of little glass boxes with built-in loupes allow pot aficionados to study varieties of  cannabis flowers up close and personal.


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Mother Earth cannabis flower under loupes. PHOTO: Will Morgan


Who would have thought a trip to buy marijuana could have become such a visual delight? But given the demand for the product, the shop could have just been a store out in the strip. Instead, Entrepreneurs Pakuris and Keegan understood that a well-designed, pleasant environment makes for a more successful business. There is a lot to like about this historic Pawtucket mill re-purposed into a snazzy store–the weed samples are put out as if they were precious museum exhibits. In setting out standards for the business–cleanliness, quality, and transparency–Mother Earth had a template for an attractive and welcoming enterprise.


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Mother Earth logo as part of a water feature. PHOTO: Will Morgan



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