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Zero Waste Old Town Grocery Store Plans to Add Beer Growler Refills

After a tumultuous start right as the pandemic hit, business at Old Town zero waste grocery store Mason and Greens (913 King Street) is doing better as quarantine has forced locals to reassess trash output.

“When we started off, we were just doing online orders,” said Justin Marino, who opened Mason and Greens with his wife Anna Marino in March. “We pushed up the deployment of our website a little further so we could do online orders and pickups.”

By the end of May, Justin said they started to allow some shopping in the store. So far, Justin said much of the business has come from people travelling to the store from D.C. or as far away as Richmond and Baltimore.

“We knew that we would tap into that market just because of what we were doing,” he said. “We were the only people in the area doing a zero waste shop. It’s drawn people to Alexandria, which is nice.”

For the most part, Justin said business has been steadily improving over the last few months after the store launched right as the stay-at-home order hit. There have been a few setbacks along the way, though.

“We’ve seen dips,” Justin said. “At the beginning of July we saw a dip that directly correlated with the spikes going on everywhere. I think people got a little bit hesitant to go out and do retail shopping. It’s the ebb and the flow, but every month doing better than the last.”

With local COVID-19 levels trending down, Justin said he’s excited to start doing new stuff with the store.

“The neat part is the store just evolves over time,” Justin said. “We have a lot of big plans for things coming up. One thing we hope to do, if all goes according to plan, is we hope to be doing beer and wine.”

Justin said if the store gets its ABC license, in late September they hope to add the ability to refill growlers.

“Everyone who drinks beer has been to a local brewery and has picked up a growler,” Justin said. “Having a place like ours to fill that up as a way to reduce glass. It’s still in the works. It’s a little bit tricky because a lot of the breweries are busy trying to figure these things out too. Ideally would be working with local breweries and vineyards as well.”

The silver lining to all of this, Justin said, has been that people at home have had to take a second look at the amount of trash they create. Trash collection resumed in June, but early in the pandemic the amount of garbage piling up at residential locations put a strain on the city’s infrastructure.

“Now everyone is at home and is starting to look at how much trash they’re generating and thinking about it more,” Justin said. “It’s more on people’s minds. It’s good in that respect, that people are thinking about the mountains of trash.”

Early in the pandemic, Justin said the store had a run on hand sanitizer, which they sell in bulk. While that’s calmed down substantially, there is still a challenge of finding pumps for hand sanitizer containers.

“One of the most fascinating things we found is we’re challenged finding pumps,” Justin said. “We will sell bottles with pumps for people to refill, but the pumps are hard to find right now, and have been hard to find since March. We found that a lot of people are just pitching them, not just locally but globally. Everyone is using these pumps, every restaurant and store, everyone buying sprayers and pumps and they usually just pitch them. There’s a huge demand and supply can’t meet that. We’ve been trying to source these things pretty regularly.”

In general, Justin said he hopes that people emerge from the pandemic more conscious about their waste.

“If people are looking at what they generate now that they’re at home all the time, it’s nice to actually think about that and think about ways to minimize that,” Justin said. “We’re here for those folks.”

Photo via Mason and Greens

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