ROCKVILLE — Seven weeks after the locally-sourced grocery store suddenly closed, Dawson’s Market is once again open.
On Thursday, Dawson’s Market was restocked again as hosted its grand reopening in Rockville to much fanfare from the public and local officials.
In October, when Dawson’s owners announced that the grocery store would close down at the end of the month, it came as a blow to many in the community. Located adjacent to Rockville Town Square, Dawson’s was an anchor business for downtown Rockville, being the only major grocery store and the main attraction in the area for many residents.
But as the store was closing, its general manager, Bart Yablonsky, decided to act and took over ownership of the store. Weeks later, after receiving public funds from the City of Rockville and Montgomery County, Yablonsky announced that Dawson’s would reopen in the same location at 225 North Washington St.
Among the happiest to see the store back open was Veronica De la Vega, one of the many franchise vendors who depends on Dawson’s to sell their products.
“I’m just thrilled that he was able to do it, you know,” said De la Vega, franchise owner of fruit-full, frozen fruit bars she sells at Dawson’s. “It means jobs for all of us, it means — you know — new sneakers for my kid’s track team, you know, dance lessons, you know, it means all of that for us.”
The announcement of Dawson’s closure came as a shock to many in the community.
Days after the announcement came, Rockville City officials held a town-hall meeting, in which hundreds of residents showed up to vent their frustrations at them. Dawson’s had become a signal of the City’s poor business climate, as several owners of small retail businesses located near Rockville Town Square announced they were also closing.
Yablonsky said the raucous town hall meeting inspired him to take over ownership of the store, after seeing how passionately the community supported the market.
“I was humbled by the reaction, you know,” Yablonsky said. “I think I was excited by the response. I didn’t know we had that much of an impact on people.”
Thursday’s grand reopening was replete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with local, county and state officials. Yablonsky, who was back as his first day as owner, was frequently interrupted with handshakes, and thanks from customers who were cheerful to be back at their local market. Yablonsky said that he will continue Dawson’s mission of selling locally sourced foods.
Since the town hall meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council have discussed ways they could improve the climate in Town Square, and have made minor changes to help Dawson’s, such as removing parking meters and better monitoring of lots to make sure Dawson’s limited spaces are used only by customers.
Yablonsky has made a few minor changes to Dawson’s himself by deciding to add a few name brand products that fit Dawson’s minimally processed standards. In addition, to help him reopen Dawson’s, Yablonsky rehired many of the store’s old employees, with 30 of the store’s current 45 employees being rehires from the old Dawson’s Market.
“We’re not fully stocked up yet; I mean we’re still getting there. Two weeks, we basically put the store back together in two weeks, which is pretty crazy,” said Yablonsky, who rushed to get the store open before Christmas.
For Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, the news of Dawson’s closure in October came as a shock. Since then, the Mayor and Council have debated how to fix the economic climate in Rockville Town Square. In November, Rockville Economic Development, Inc., announced $430,000 in grants that would be used to fund struggling small businesses in Rockville Town Square, as a short-term solution to the ailing business climate.
While some of the issues — high rents from landlord Federal Reality — are out of the City’s hands, the Mayor and Council decided to give financial assistance to small businesses in Rockville through the grant, which Dawson’s used to reopen.
“I think the crowd today proved that people want Dawson’s,” Newton said. “They’re going to support Dawson’s and put their shopping dollars there.”