While I was growing up at Steward Manor during the late 1970s and early 80s, grocery shopping was never really a problem. In just a matter of minutes, if my mom and I were so inclined, we could walk to and from Safeway—which, at the time, was just around the corner from us on Bowie Road. In fact, during the one year that we lived at 2 Woodland Court, it was literally just across the railroad tracks. For more extensive shopping, of course, my dad would drive us there (or more likely, to one of the bigger and/or cheaper stores in the area: Giant, Pantry Pride, or Basics). But on any given day, my mom might have decided to bake a cake or something; and needing only a few select items, she and I would take a quick walk over to Safeway.
Until this past weekend, I hadn’t been able to find a single photo of the Safeway that I so vividly remember from childhood—before it relocated to a new and larger space at Laurel Lakes in 1985 (where it remains today).
For me, the old Safeway was the real Safeway; and when it left, it was like losing an old friend. To this day, I occasionally have dreams in which I’m back in that store—perusing the Cragmont soda aisle and noting the vintage cash registers at the checkout counter, amongst orderly stacks of weekly magazines featuring the likes of Diff’rent Strokes and President Reagan on their covers.
So in the course of my research, when I turned the page in the April 21, 1966 issue of the Laurel News Leader and came to this photo—I smiled at an old friend.
There it was, just as I remembered it. But even newer, because it had just opened. From this angle, (taken from the adjacent shopping center, which had also just opened) you can even see that awesome roller track/conveyor belt thing, which transported your groceries from the checkout counter, outside, around a hairpin curve, and to your awaiting vehicle beneath that covered driveway. (This, of course, was the only downside to walking over to Safeway with my mom—I didn’t get to use that thing nearly as often as I would have liked, but I digress).
Admittedly, I suspected that I might actually find a photo of the store; in an earlier newspaper, I had come across this bold announcement, which included a stock illustration of a similar Safeway store (but without the aforementioned awesome roller track/conveyor belt thing).
So, a question I’d often wondered about was finally answered. The Safeway on Bowie Road first opened its doors in January 1966. The adjacent shopping center, which included Market Tire, Arundel Furniture, and Chicken Roost, among others—also another story for another time—opened in April.
But the photo also raised an interesting question, because conspicuously absent in all this was my other beloved store—Dart Drug. I had always assumed that Dart Drug was the original tenant beside Safeway; that they had been built together. Evidently, that wasn’t the case at all.
As I continued through the 1966 newspapers, I spotted the following ad in an August issue—which references the mysterious “Super S” store noted in the photo caption above.
Safeway Super S? I’d never heard of or seen such a thing, but there it was, in the proverbial black and white.
It also immediately struck me as rather ironic that Safeway had actually occupied this entire, massive structure—yet would ultimately move to Laurel Lakes nearly 20 years later in need of more space. What happened there? What exactly was Super S, and how (and when) did it eventually become the Dart Drug that we all knew and loved?
The Super S story turns out to be a super-short one, actually. By April 1967—a mere eight months after its grand opening, ribbon-cutting ceremony with then-Mayor Merrill Harrison, the store was closed.
Super S, according to the fantastic vintage retail blog, Pleasant Family Shopping, was an early (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt by the supermarket to parlay its brand into an ancillary store; one which offered the types of non-food items you wouldn’t find in the Safeway proper: small appliances, sporting goods, toys, outdoor accessories, and more. Basically, like what Dart Drug would become. In retrospect, it’s a bold idea that, frankly, seems ahead of its time. Who knows.. with a little tweaking of the Super S business model here and there, Safeway could’ve very easily hit the jackpot. (Not that they haven’t been successful enough on their own, but again I digress).
It’s not yet clear if the old Super S building hosted any interim tenants, (my guess is no) but in February 1969, Dart Drug officially took up residence. It would remain there until the company went bankrupt nearly 20 years later.
Here’s another view of the Safeway Shopping Center (as it came to be known) from across Route 1, in what was at that time the Food Fair parking lot. Food Fair, of course, would eventually become Frank’s Hardware, which in turn would eventually become Frank’s Nursery and Crafts—but that’s yet another story or two, as well.
Coincidentally, just a few miles west along Route 198, another Safeway opened in mid-February 1966. With a Peoples Drug at the opposite end of the Burtonsville Shopping Center, I guess the builders wisely saw no need for a Super S.
Last, but not least, I’d heard many a story about Laurel’s original Safeway—a location just off Main Street that, like its successor, was eventually deemed too small. That store was located on C Street, in the little building that would actually become City Hall and the Laurel Police Headquarters in 1972. Apparently, it continued to briefly do business even after the larger, new store opened on Bowie Road. In fact, according to this amusing snippet from September 1969, customers were still showing up even after it had closed.
I can relate. They, too, must’ve felt like they’d lost an old friend.
These photos are so great! I’ve really been enjoying hearing about the history of Laurel and every bit of memorabilia you’ve been able to “dig up”. Thank you!! (PS: Please consider writing a book on Laurel, incorporating all your photos, etc..)
i loved th Super s stores picked out my little miss noname doll there at christmas amist the back wall of dolls
If you look at the birds eye view of the complex on Bing Maps – the original roofline is still there…
The basement of the old C-Street Safeway (where the rest rooms were and later the jail cells for the police) was one of the creepiest places I remember every entering in my life (with maybe the exception of the old sanitarium building on the grounds of the soon to be torn down Laurel mall)!
We lived @ 4 Woodland CT late 70’s early 80’s, my mom worked in the bakery there at that time. Ears earlier I believe. Grandfather worked produce there & y uncles were stock boys (Grandma worked in Giant’s Bakery) I took a couple of trips across the train tracks back then myself.
Am I wrong? I thought that the first Safeway store was on Main street.between High’s and the old Jewelry store. My family moved here in 1950 and I remember shopping at what I thought was a Safeway store. This store had a glass butcher meat display and a butcher who cut the meat.. When the new Safeway opened around 1952 we all thought that the new C Street Safeway was wonderful because it had modern packaged meats for sale.
That’s correct, Nancy. In fact, I had just learned this myself the other day, and posted a set of photos sent to me by Kevin Leonard—which he’d discovered in the Laurel Historical Society’s research library.
I haven’t had a chance to update the blog here yet, but those photos were posted on the Lost Laurel Facebook page:
For the moment, a Safeway in that style is still in business on University Boulevard in Silver Spring, just west of Route 29. Several like it have been renovated or demolished in the past 20 years, in Wheaton, Kensington, and Colesville.