Mason and Greens (400 Eighth St. SE) founders Justin and Anna Marino want to help people help the planet.
It started because they wanted to do their part. Parents of two small children, they wanted to reduce their household environmental footprint and live as close to a zero-waste lifestyle as possible.
But as they worked to transform their household, they faced a quandary: many of the items that were most sustainable couldn’t be found locally. Some items could only be obtained online, delivered in bubble wrap. “It almost defeats the purpose,” Justin said. The process of getting items like reusable sandwich bags was itself eliminating the environmental merits of those items.
“So, we said, there needs to be a store,” Justin said. They opened the first Mason and Greens location in Alexandria, VA in spring, 2020.
After a soft opening through the weekdays, the Capitol Hill location, their second, will have its grand opening at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, with cupcakes, giveaways, raffles and sustainable fun.
It’s a zero-waste store. Mason and Greens allows people to shop in a way that doesn’t involve packaging that isn’t compostable, recyclable or long-term reusable. Mason and Greens is a sustainable lifestyle store, offering bulk groceries, cosmetics, cleaning products and apothecary as well as deli items. You can walk in to buy bulk flour, a completely compostable broom, lipstick, toothpaste, household cleaners and cheese.
In addition, Justin offers a consulting service that helps small businesses and households create a zero-waste environment. “If enough small companies start doing this, we’re really going to start making more headway,” he said.
No Plastic Here
The Capitol Hill store is about twice the size of their first Old Town location. On the main floor, customers can find bulk spices and dry goods, such as flour and nuts, as well as household items like wooden spoons and cleaners. There is also a deli, offering vegan items: vegan cheese, meat substitutes, seasonal produce. There will also be a variety of gluten-free baked goods.
Three different flavors of kombucha will be available on tap; taps will shortly include a nitro cold brew. When they get their license cleared through the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, you’ll also be able to fill your growler with beer and wine on tap (no word on timeline for approval yet). Everything is sourced as locally as possible.
Most products are vetted by Justin and Anna; much of it is tested by the employees in the shop. But the store is built around what people really need. “Why would I buy five pounds of flour if I only need one cup? There should be a place for someone to buy what they need —only what they need,” Justin said. “That’s the best way to reduce waste.”
While nearly every item is locally-sourced and sustainably managed, it is the packaging —or lack of it— that is the key difference. All of the packaging for sale is compostable. They carry this ideal through to the front of store, where items are sold bulk or in eco-friendly packaging. There is almost zero plastic here, with the exception of fittings in the pumps for liquids.
How does it work? Customers can bring their own packaging. Say you bring a jar to fill with tea. The jar is weighed separately, and that is subtracted from the weight of the tea, for which you pay. It’s like the general store of yesteryear. Of course, if you’re just dropping in, you can buy sustainable containers on site. Items like sugar and spices can be placed in paper bags for the trip between store and home, Justin said.
These principles are carried through to the back of store, where suppliers are asked to ensure deliveries are not wrapped in plastic. “We have turned around suppliers because of that,” Justin said. “Anna is very particular about that.”
A handful of suppliers have made sustainable changes to work with them. The biggest challenge has been food service, but at least one vegan cheesemonger working with Mason and Greens has figured out how to wrap his cheese in compostable wrap.
Second Mason and Greens
It’s a destination store, the owners say. In fact, it was the length of trip some of the customers were making that drove Mason and Greens to open in the District. They were crossing the bridge, sometimes on their bicycles, carrying glass jars and filling them only to bike back to DC. “We knew that we had to open in the city,” Justin said. “We knew that the community was just not served.” When they started on their own journey, the only zero-waste store was Fullfillary, then operating as a pop-up in Takoma Park. “They were it,” he said.
They looked at a few neighborhoods, including the Hill but also the Shaw neighborhood and along 14th Street before settling on the Haines Building last year. In need of some significant interior work, the store nonetheless had everything they wanted; bright, sunny, natural-looking spaces on two levels. Upstairs, on the mezzanine level along Eighth Street, the couple has set aside space for classes. In the future, they will use the space to offer workshops on topics like sustainability or how to use medicinal herbs, in addition to Justin’s sustainability consultations.
“This is kind of always where we wanted to be,” Justin said. “The neighborhood is great here, just a great community.” In that way, the Hill is a bit like Old Town, he said, a community of businesses and neighbors unified, who know and support each other.
It was Anna who had the dream, the couple said. A former hairstylist and founder of a children’s fashion line, she is the creative who both comes up with ideas and makes them happen on site. Justin, with a background in engineering and as a consultant who has worked in emergency and disaster management, handles planning and logistics.
The first Mason and Greens opened in Old Town Alexandria in March 2020, about a week before the stay-at-home order came down in Virginia. Justin laughs now as he recalls the struggle; there was no question of delaying the opening. Even before the doors opened, they did a sudden pivot to grocery and local, sustainable delivery that helped keep them afloat as they entered business in one of the worst economic periods in recent memory. But when clients could visit by appointment in April 2020, and later, shop in reduced numbers by June, the business took off, he said.
It seemed like a need that had to be filled, Anna said. “Nobody’s doing it around here, so we have to; [we] can’t wait around for it.” Anna recalled thinking. But it not only is what they do for a living; it reflects their own beliefs. “We’ve always wanted to own a business,” she said, “and this fits in with our values and the way that we want to live our lives.”
Employees at the new Capitol Hill location say the reception here has already been overwhelming. They are part of the community, locally-sourced themselves, jokes store supervisor Rhiannon, who said most employees live within a few metro stops of the Hill shop.
Mason and Greens officially opens Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will be “fun zero-waste stuff,” giveaways and a drawing for a Mason and Greens gift basket. The first 100 folks will get a delicious gluten-free (and major allergen-free) cupcake by The Difference Baker.
Mason and Greens (400 Eighth St. SE) is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, except Sundays 11 to 7 p.m. Call them at (202) 506-3206. Learn more (and shop online!) at www.masonandgreens.com