Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dutch Country Market to relocate

After 20 years in Montgomery, Burtonsville landmark to move to a bigger site in Laurel

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Linda Burkholder, an employee at the Dutch Country Farmers Market, hands Martine Atang of Odenton the bag of produce she bought at the Burtonsville market. A popular destination, the market will move this summer to a larger site on Fort Meade Road in Laurel.
The Dutch Country Farmers Market will relocate to a larger site in Laurel this summer, ending speculation about the future of the Burtonsville landmark that has been a popular destination for shoppers from across the Washington, D.C., area for 20 years.

Sam Beiler, general manager of the Amish- and Mennonite-managed market, signed a lease last month for a store space on Fort Meade Road in Laurel. The market at the Burtonsville Shopping Center, located near the intersection of routes 198 and 29, will undergo redevelopment this summer.

The exact date the Burtonsville shop will close and the Laurel market will open has yet to be determined, Beiler said.

The decision to move ended efforts by Montgomery County officials and community members, who launched petition drives and worked behind the scenes to keep the market in the county.

‘‘It’s the town center that we don’t have,” said Shelley Rochester, a Burtonsville resident who led community efforts through Coalition to Save the Dutch Market, a group she established.

Judy Thatcher, a legislative aide for Prince George’s County Councilman Thomas E. Dernoga, who played a role in aiding the market’s relocation, said Prince George’s County eagerly welcomes the market. ‘‘It’s truly an asset to the county,” she said.

Beiler said the market’s new site, which is being renovated, is twice the size of the Burtonsville store with wider aisles and spacious floor space that will allow the market to offer faster, better service to customers, many of whom regularly travel long distances to visit the shop.

‘‘In the last 20 years, we have met a lot of good people,” Beiler said. ‘‘We hope we have a following.”

The history

The future of the market had been in question for nearly two years since talks of redeveloping the shopping center surfaced. Some community members had called for the new center to include a mainstream grocery anchor, said Christopher Jones, president of BMC Property Group, which owns the shopping center. Concerns over placing competitive venues in the same center raised issues and led to the Dutch market’s move, he said.

‘‘We love the Dutch market,” said Jones, who met frequently with neighborhood groups in the past few months to explain the company’s position.

Officials from two Montgomery County departments, Housing and Community Affairs and Economic Development, made efforts to find a new home for the market within the county, said Roylene Roberts, county chief of neighborhood revitalization. But zoning issues, insufficient parking lot space and the venue size were considerable challenges.

Last year, the late Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton had personally tried to help with the search, Roberts added.

In addition to government efforts, the Burtonsville community also rallied to save the market. Rochester, a patron of the market over its 20 years, led petition efforts and aggressive leafleting.

‘‘It’s just the friendliest place and you don’t find that atmosphere in a regular supermarket,” Rochester said.

Quality foodand charming service

A trip to the Dutch County Farmers Market is a an experience for many customers looking for for unique products and a taste of Amish and Mennonite culture.

The selection of uncommon, fresh foods can be overwhelming, even for frequent customers. On Saturday, Kris Wade of Silver Spring stood over a produce stand and snacked on a fresh-baked pretzel roll. Wade said she brought her friend Mia White, 36, of Temple Hills to ‘‘help keep me sane.”

‘‘Because you can come here and spend all your money,” Wade said.

In the aisle lined with pickled goods – sauerkraut and jalapeno eggs — Joanna Rollins of Columbia scoped out the shelves with her two daughters. The mom-and -pop appeal of the market is a draw for Rollins, who said shopping at the Dutch market provides a family-friendly experience.

At first, her daughters asked many questions about the workers, who wear traditional garb and travel more than three hours from Amish and Mennonite communities in Lancaster County, Pa. to bring their homemade goods. Exposing her children to a unique culture offered them a new perspective, Rollins said.

‘‘It’s a different kind of lifestyle and it’s nice to see a family working together,” she said.

Workers at the market also have gained a rich experience through their customers, said Dave Fisher, the produce manager. Since the market’s inception, he has watched families grow.

And some things have remained constant. Fisher has clientele that shop on the same days and at the same hours every week. He said he can determine the time of day simply by the person who is standing at his produce stand.

‘‘I’ll likely shed a few tears,” Fisher said. ‘‘This has been a home away from home.”