Columbia natural market keeps roots, branches out in new space

David's Natural Market has opened its new store in Wilde Lake

From its opening in 1975 as a small, holistic storefront market in the newly formed Columbia, the story of David's Natural Market draws a number of parallels to the story of Columbia as a whole.

David's, like Columbia, was founded on groundbreaking ideals. The store – originally called Nature's Cupboard of Love – has grown steadily over the decades, thanks to strong community support. Once one of many shops in a row of storefronts, David's swallowed up, storefront by storefront, an entire wing within the Wilde Lake Village Center.

Growth in Columbia has also prompted community leaders to produce fresh redevelopment plans promising future sustainability.

While grand plans to sprout an urban downtown in Columbia's Town Center remain in the works, plans for David's finally came to a fruition last week as the all-organic and nutritionally conscious grocery officially opened the doors on its new, modern Columbia store.

"I've been waiting a long time for this," said owner David London, whose parents started the business in the 70s. "We've expanded along with the community as it has grown. I grew up in this area, and I'm excited about offering this to the community."

The new 24,000-square-foot market is located next door to the old space in a newly erected, LEED-certified building inside the village center. In addition to offering more room for David's existing offerings, the new store will house a revamped deli cafe with indoor and outdoor seating.

The market opened on Oct. 30 and is part of an $18 million overhaul of the shopping center engineered by owner Kimco Realty Corp. Expected to be completed in 2016, the project will revamp the center's existing retail layout – most notably eliminating the previously vacant space formerly occupied by a Giant grocery store in favor of newly built retail and approximately 240 apartment units.

The apartments are a novel idea for Columbia's older village centers, which were once the commercial linchpin of the planned community but have since fallen by the wayside due, in part, to the advent of big box retailers and grocers.

The store's new, modern space, with high ceilings and vaulted windows, is a far cry from David's former location next door, a cramped and maze-like space that was a product of the store's gradual growth over the years, London says.

"We started expanding left, and then we expanded right. And it was just long and narrow; kind of like a giant bowling alley," he said. "I am excited to have a store that is the right shape and right dimensions, where people can shop correctly."

His new space, with its abundance of natural light and earth-tone color scheme, is much more reflective of the grocer's niche: organic food and nutritional vitamins.

"If you go to other stores, some is organic, some is not; it's all mixed up," London says. "We are all organic, all the time."

Columbia-based interior designer Arlene Snyder, of Custom Concepts, who worked on the new store's design, said she wanted the aesthetics of the store to reflect its values.

"David buys local as much as possible, and we really wanted to keep that as a primary focus for the store," she said. "This is really about local and community."

This is manifested in the store's art. Snyder said she will be implementing word art with phrases "that inspire," like "community" and "diversity." The signs identifying the store's different sections were made from recycled palette wood by one of the store's manager, which Snyder said is an ode to the store's sustainable roots.

She added that the design will also draw on David's, and Columbia's, early history, and she plans to hang prints of posters created in Columbia's early years by Gail Holliday, an artist retained by Columbia founder Jim Rouse and the Rouse Company.

Snyder said she wants to incorporate local maps as well, and has reached out to the Columbia Archives for help.

"It's about acknowledging the past, looking at the present and going forward into the future," she said.

Snyder added that the theme of community was inspired by David's homegrown roots.

"He knows the people in the store, and he cares about them. ... It's really refreshing this is not corporate because every place you go is big box. It's corporate and this is not," she said. "This is something we want to keep alive."

Snyder points to a variety of factors beyond the food that make David's unique, including that most of the store managers and employees have been there for decades.

Longtime employee Courtney Carpenter is a certified nutrition specialist. The new space has an expanded vitamin section for Carpenter, as well as an office for her to meet one-on-one with her clients.

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