Sunday, September 30, 2012

Treeless in Rockville: Dawson's Market gets off to a rough start

Yesterday, Dawson's Market celebrated its grand opening at Rockville Town Center. The long-awaited grocery store, the first under the "Dawson's" brand to be opened by Richmond, VA-based Ellwood Thompsons, prides itself on, according to its website, "a commitment to local and organic foods." That commitment is, according to Dawson's, "an extension of who we are and how we live. As a whole, we’re made up of people constantly searching for the best local products, tending to our gardens, recycling, composting, advocating, volunteering, riding our bikes, sampling chocolates and spirits, playing outdoors, and well…having fun."


That concern for the environment does not, apparently, extend to being kind to trees that might be blocking its sign. That, apparently, is no fun at all.

Rockville Patch reported earlier this week of the uproar created when Federal Realty Trust, which owns and operates the commercial parts  of the Town Center development, acquiesced to a request from Dawson's to remove four trees along N. Washington Street that were apparently blocking views of one of Dawson's signs. The trees lined a sidewalk that ran alongside a parking lot directly behind the store. (Patch has before and after photos of the street.)

Putting aside the illegality of the tree-cutting (The Gazette notes that the request to approve the removal of the trees had not been approved by the City, but questions remain as to whether verbal approval had been given), the disconnect between FRT's actions, Dawson's public statements, and the attempt to brand the Town Center as a pedestrian-focused "urban environment" are striking.

Simply put, cutting down trees in order to create an unobstructed view of a parking lot is not how environmentally focused businesses behave, and it's not the actions of a entity seeking to create a neighborhood that is truly pedestrian-friendly. Rather, it's a throwback to the suburban developments of yore that featured seas of parking lots and only token greenery, and thus created rather unwelcoming pedestrian environments.

Arboreal missteps notwithstanding, the opening of Dawson's constitutes the filling of a major hole in the Rockville Town Center commercial make-up: a grocery store. The store will provide 15,000 square feet of local and organic produce, meats, cheeses, prepared foods and baked goods.

Dawson's Facebook page has a number of photos of the store and its grand opening celebration from yesterday. Here's hoping their "commitment to the community" becomes a bit more focused as the store becomes more ingrained in the Rockville community.


  1. They've stepped off completely on the wrong foot. You can claim to be this green, fuzzy, happy, hippie-esque market, but you have to walk the talk. MOM's is an example of a place that does it. Dawson's, for now, appears to be nothing but a facade.

    They have a LOT of work to do to prove that image is wrong.

  2. Having worked in Rockville Town Square and parked next to those trees throughout college, I'm sad to see them go. That said, it's a little premature to write off Dawson's Market. (Besides, MOM's new location at the Mosaic District in Fairfax County isn't the best urban scene, either.) I'm a big fan of Ellwood Thompson's in Richmond - a big box in a parking lot in an otherwise great urban neighborhood - because of their commitment to natural/organic, locally sourced food, and that should hopefully outshine this small error.

    A side note: Ellwood Thompson's is so named for its location at Ellwood Avenue and Thompson Street in Richmond, and Dawson's Market is so named for the Dawsons, a prominent family in Rockville history. (The Beall-Dawson House Museum is located two blocks from the store.) So I'm not sure if there will be another "Dawson's Market" if Ellwood's ever decides to expand.

  3. I agree Dan that this act alone shouldn't cause people to write them off--but these kinds of things are important, in that they speak to the kind of business that a place really is. I hope that they will be a nice addition to the neighborhood, and I hope that they succeed. I also hope that in the future they aren't as tone-deaf as to how decisions like this could affect not only the impressions of potential customers, but of the environment in which they operate.


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