When customers pick up products to read labels at The Local Market, a boutique food store that opened this month on West Broad Street, they learn more about those items than just their ingredients and their prices.
They hear a story about local businesses, some many generations old or family owned, making products across the Washington, D.C. area.
It’s part of a “sustainability movement” sweeping the nation, and owner Tom Coates hopes that his business can provide shoppers with locally produced goods to fill their pantries while giving back to the local economy and decreasing environmental impact.
Coates says he was inspired to open his store because of the award-winning Falls Church Farmers’ Market. As a Little League coach, he couldn’t stop by during the spring and much of the summer because his Saturday mornings were occupied with practices and games, but still sought the organic and regionally made products it provided.
Reflecting upon developing the idea for the store, Coates said, “I thought, how convenient would it be to go somewhere, seven days a week, where you could get the same products?”
Since opening its doors, the store has offered goods made by local farmers, bakers and crafters every day of the week, from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
At its small strip plaza locale, formerly The Advanced Photo across from the old post office, shoppers can browse coolers of organic dairy products, bins of fresh local produce, and shelves of prepared foods like sauces and breads made in the area.
While exactly how “local” the products are depends upon availability and building a partnership with the store, the majority of products come from the Washington, D.C. area, some from Falls Church itself, and Coates invites local vendors wishing to sell their products in his store to contact him to discuss retailing.
Some of the vendors in the shop also sell at the Falls Church Farmers’ Market, and in those cases Coates says he prices those products at the same rate as they are sold at the market in order to avoid competition.
“I would think it helps vendors tremendously in terms of moving their produce,” Howard Herman, Falls Church’s retired Recreation and Parks director who continues to run the farmers’ market, said when asked how having an organic, local grocery store move into the City would affect the farmers’ market and its vendors.
“It gives them another outlet, and frankly I don’t think it will hurt their sales on Saturdays,” Herman said. “If anything, I think it might help because there are probably people who will go to the market and see something or get something they like and be told or realize that producer actually sells on Saturdays at the farmers’ market. I’m hoping it’s a good marriage and that both entities benefit from having The Local Market there.”
As the farmers’ market has reached its capacity in the City Hall parking lot with around 45 vendors, Coates said some local businesses looking to sell would have a new avenue to explore in selling their products within his store.
Mary Kearns, of Falls Church, owner of Herban Lifestyle, sells her natural, organic and Fair Trade soap products through Coates’ store. She has been making soaps for the past 12 years and selling them at various art shows, often on the national level, but looks forward to selling her soaps, lotions and lip balms to fellow residents.
“It’s nice to have a chance to connect with people right in my own neighborhood,” Kearns said. “I’m very excited about that store, not just to vend there, but to shop there.”
Coates is a Falls Church native, a JEB Stuart High School graduate who married his high-school sweetheart, Laura. Though an electrician by trade, Coates said that operating grocery stores runs in the family.
His father ran Falls Church’s legendary and long-defunct Grand Union grocery store, and from early on Coates was able to see the inner workings of a grocery store first hand.
“Even as a kid, I was allowed to build displays, and interact with the customers and tell them about the products,” Coates said. “That was my playground. I grew up there. At an early age, I knew more about produce than most will know in their lifetime.”
Coates’ father can sometimes be seen in the store discussing local merchandise with customers who, piqued by curiosity at its signs or word-or-mouth, stop by to see what wares it offers.
The store is still in its soft-opening phase, using no formal advertising to let potential customers know what it provides.
On opening day, however, almost 75 customers found their way to the store.
Coates said he was surprised not only by the number of customers who visited when he opened the doors, but by how thankful they were.
“The overwhelming response to me, personally, was thank you,” Coates said. “They said we’ve needed this for such a long time. It really caught me off guard.”
As for Saturday mornings, both Herman and Coates agreed that The Local Market might not draw locavores away from weaving between vendor booths at the Falls Church Farmers’ Market just a few blocks away.
“The atmosphere with the farmers’ market is the big draw there,” Coates said. “I’ve tried to create the atmosphere in the store, but nothing is like buying the food outside.”
“There is a core of people who come to the farmers’ market on Saturday who come not just for the produce, but to interact and take in the market atmosphere,” Herman said. “As weird as it sounds, even on a rainy day the market still stays pretty busy.”