The Botany Bay celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary in June, and its success is attributed to three P’s — passion, personality and perseverance (maybe a fourth being pot) inherent to its owner, Ginny Saville.
“To say that this has exceeded my expectations times of million is an understatement,” says Ginny, who traveled the festival circuit after college, selling backpacks, hats, wallets and other hemp-made goods out of her Ford Taurus station wagon. “Some people start their business on a shoestring; I started on a broken shoestring. I put everything we made back into the business in an organic, old fashioned, mom and pop, build it up way.”
The Botany Bay has grown to three Kentucky location; two in Lexington with the original still going strong in Richmond. That’s not to say it hasn’t been challenging at times. Kentucky, as Ginny points out, is a holdout where legalized marijuana is concerned. “We have hemp, and we have to fight tooth the nail to keep them from banning it,” she says.
The Botany Bay got its name from the infamous Australian penal colony where criminals from the British empire were exiled during the 1800s. Explorer Captain James Cook had dropped anchor there years earlier, and his naturalist discovered a rich abundance of unique plant life, giving the inlet its name.
Exotic plants and lawbreakers — Ginny remarks that it fit perfectly with the image of a smoke shop.
“Back then, I didn’t know there was a smoke shop industry. I didn’t start thinking of it as an industry until the early 2000s; before then it was just something that I did for a living,” Ginny says.
One of Ginny’s first jobs out of college was as a personal assistant to a man who would later on be elected mayor of Richmond. You’d think that association would’ve given Ginny the golden key to operate a smoke shop, but ironically it was during his term in office that her shop was were raided for allegedly selling synthetic marijuana.
Kentucky was one of the early states to ban JWH-018, a chemical used as an active ingredient of synthetic marijuana products, and Ginny points out that there was tremendous confusion among authorities when “spice” as the derivative was call, made headlines. The employees at The Botany Bay had felony wraps put on them. Ginny wasn’t onsite when the store was raided, but prosecution refused to negotiate her employee’s charges to misdemeanors unless she fell on the sword and pled guilty to misdemeanor trafficking of synthetics — the first marks to her spotless record.
The worst part of the “witch hunt” was that authorities gutted The Botany Bay of its inventory; not just the offending products, but also pipes, papers, scales, and anything else they considered drug paraphernalia. Fortunately, vendors and friends stepped up to help get The Botany Bay back up and running.
Being strong-willed Ginny, there was no way she was going to let a little setback keep her doors closed for
long. Truth be told, after winning her case to have the wrongfully confiscated merchandise returned, she used the opportunity to expand the store.
“I’ve always got the biggest balls in the room,” Ginny says. “I think people respect me for my confidence.”
Being a senior member of the smoke shop community, there have been times, though, when Ginny, 53, has felt discrimination from some of the younger people in the industry.
“Honestly I don’t know why because I’ve been smoking pot longer than they’ve been breathing air,” she says. “But then you have the whole other swing to that pendulum, and you have people who are like, ‘Oh my God, you’ve been around forever,” and give you an extra degree of respect from being an O. G.”
Ginny has literally become the face of The Botany Bay. A cartooned version of her, dressed in a tie dye T-shirt and her arms crossed in defiance (or maybe contentment) graces stickers, rolling papers, and advertisements in the local area.
“I’m pretty notorious around town, but I’ve maintained a positive image and have never shied away from being linked to cannabis,” Ginny says. “We might still be battling the government, but in the court of public opinion, I got it, and that’s where it matters.”