The vitamins are neatly lined up on the shelves, the sale signs are posted in front of hemp ice tea and organic flax cereal, and the pitchers of almond and soy milk stand ready at the coffee bar for the grand opening of Dawson’s Market in Rockville Town Square.
The new grocery store, which officially opened Saturday, boasts wood decor and chalkboard signs that enhance its image as a natural, organic grocer, but it’s not just a marketing ploy. Tags on many of the products let shoppers know, within a mile, where their bell peppers, eggplant and squash came from.
Dawson’s Market prides itself on selling a wide range of local products. To them, “local” means within 100 miles of the store, and “regional” means within 250 miles, Marketing Director Becky Lakin explained.
In the produce section, apples are sorted not only by variety and price but by which farm’s trees produced them. On the other end of the store, shoppers can find bagels from Bethesda — no blueberry ones, though, since they contain corn syrup the grocer does not allow in its products. Lakin said the bakers are working to find a substitute.
Lakin said local farmers are excited to sell produce to them because the company is smaller and only owns two stores.
“They kind of understand that they’re not going through some kind of corporate process,” she said. “It’s very easy; there’s not a lot of layers of us. ... Everybody I’ve talked to is really thrilled about it.”
The grocer also stocks products from farther afield, like Icelandic flounder and organic tomatoes from Mexico. Dawson’s Market also sells bulk goods, wine and a large selection of vitamins and health products.
Rick Hood, who owns Dawson’s Market along with a store called Ellwood Thompson’s in Richmond, Va., also is proud of the store’s prepared foods. Dawson’s has a hot bar, a deli, a coffee and juice bar, and a breakfast bar in the morning. Of the store’s 100 employees, about 30 work in the kitchen.
“About 22 to 23 percent of our sales are from prepared foods,” Hood said. “... The difference between us and regular grocery food is that we have changeover and different food every day.”
Hood said the store primarily is marketing to people within 2 miles of the store.
“We’re more of a community market,” Hood said. “We’re not trying to pull large distances. That’s not what Rockville wanted. That’s not how we run our business.”
Dawson’s size — about 19,000 square feet is smaller than large grocery stores like Whole Foods, Hood said.
“We’re more local [and] community oriented,” Hood said, although he added that he is fine with people coming to shop at Dawson’s from farther away.
Robin McBride is the vice president and mid-Atlantic region chief operating officer for Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns the retail space in Town Square. She hopes Dawson’s Market also will draw customers from the areas surrounding Rockville.
“They have a large local and organic grocery store offering, and so they kind of differentiate themselves from other grocery stores,” McBride said.
Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said an anchor store like Dawson’s Market was part of the original design for Town Center.
“This has been such a long time coming for the city,” she said. “We’re so thrilled.”
Dawson’s Market had events planned throughout the opening weekend, including live music, in-store demonstrations and tastings, cookie decorating and pumpkin painting, and tote-bag giveaways.