The closest thing to a bat signal for stoners is the blue lettering of the Cookies logo. When a new storefront comes to a strip mall or a downtown shopping district, fans flock to grand-opening parties, drawn by a love of the brand — one based on more than its reputation for selling extremely potent weed. Until recently, the company was largely a West Coast phenomenon, but as marijuana legalization spread east, so did Cookies. A little over a year after recreational sales became legal in New Jersey, the chain opened a new location in a bland outdoor mall in Harrison, its aesthetic landing somewhere in the startup-meets-streetwear zone between Apple and Kith. I walked over to a large circular table laden with dozens of jars, each containing a different strain. There were longtime Cookies stalwarts like Gary Payton, a collaboration with the N.B.A. legend, and new variants with names like Mexican Flan and Dirty Muffler.
There I met Nikola Pavlovic, a genial salesman wearing a flamingo-patterned bucket hat atop long hair, canvas moccasins and a shirt covered in psychedelic flowers. Pavlovic, 31, is an aspiring stand-up comic who began smoking to help with anxiety and found himself down what he called the “cannasseur” rabbit hole, reading forum posts about exotic hybrid genetics and terpene levels. This expertise eventually took him to Cookies, where his role is to match customers with the ideal strain for their lifestyles. I asked what he would suggest for a freelance reporter who might want to enliven dull afternoons at home in front of the computer. Pavlovic recommended a strain called Laughing Gas: “This is like renting a Ferrari in Miami and going on a straight highway,” he told me, “and just slowly pressing the gas.”
All around us were neatly labeled $70 jars of weed and $300 bongs laser-etched with the Cookies logo. And, of course, hoodies: Cookies clothing plays a key role in both the brand’s origin story and its current marketing strategy. The brand predates any legal marijuana regime — when Cookies was strictly a black-market concern, hoodies and hat sales allowed it to gain a foothold above ground. And the soft goods give buyers a way to signal something specific to the outside world: I smoke lots of weed, but in the cool Wiz Khalifa way, not the lame suburban-mom way.
People often compare Cookies with the streetwear brand Supreme. That’s accurate in one very literal sense — they each sell a lot of hats — and in other, more subjective ones. They share a penchant for collaboration-based marketing; their appeal to mainstream audiences is tied up with their implied connections to illicit subcultures; and they’ve each been expanding rapidly in recent years, thanks to infusions of venture capital. Harrison was the 64th Cookies outlet to open in the United States; there are also retail locations in Israel, Thailand and Canada.