Author Archives: Richard Friend

Tastee Diner in Dispensary Sights Again?

Poster designed for the January 19, 2019 Diner Appreciation Day event organized by The Laurel History Boys

Who’s ready for some diner dispensary deja vu?

From what I’ve been hearing, the Tastee Diner—which has quietly remained for sale since a City of Laurel-supported plan to allow a medical cannabis dispensary to take over its site in 2018 was withdrawn due to overwhelming public support for preserving the historic structure—is once again on the verge of making a deal that would seal the diner’s fate.

Believe it or not, it’s been nearly five years since the iconic chrome building—one of only two original Comac diner cars known to still exist in the world—narrowly avoided the wrecking ball (or a cosmetic makeover that would’ve rendered it unrecognizable—a fate arguably worse than demolition).

In November 2018, the announcement came that a sale of the diner was pending to Pure Hana Synergy, a medical cannabis company that sought the location for their brick and mortar business. The diner property, with grandfathered clauses in its fine print, would have allowed Pure Hana Synergy to move in and quickly set up their dispensary.

The Laurel History Boys and the Laurel Historical Society were vocal in trying to preserve the diner in some form, and repeatedly asked the City of Laurel to work with both the buyer and seller to explore options for relocating the portable structure (which arrived on the site from New Jersey in 1951). When it became apparent that the City had no interest in saving the building, the public began to weigh in; and by the time the Planning Committee met to vote on whether or not to recommend approving the sale, they’d heard the public loud and clear. The committee then took the unusual step of going against the mayor and Department of Economic and Community Development’s wishes and unanimously voted to deny the application.

And at the Board of Appeals meeting in January 2019, Pure Hana Synergy surprised many by withdrawing their application within the first ten minutes of the hearing. “We thank the community for teaching us and telling us honestly what true feelings and priorities are,” their representative said.

I was one of those at the front lines battling to save the diner. Not to deny owner Gene Wilkes the right to sell it, mind you, but to simply prevent it from being unnecessarily destroyed in the process. I was (and am still) convinced that in the right hands, such a unique piece of Americana can be a boon to Laurel—a true destination restaurant, shop, or other relevant business that honors its architectural heritage. Done properly, it would not only draw customers from areas beyond Laurel, but revitalize its surrounding community.

Mr. Wilkes will be quick to tell you that had he not purchased the diner from the Susini family in 1976, it would’ve closed a long time ago. That’s quite possibly true, and I’m grateful that it’s remained such a steady presence in our hometown all these years, while nearly every other longtime business has closed its doors and made way for countless milquetoast retail shops that have done little to elevate Laurel as a shopping or dining destination. But Mr. Wilkes has been a study in irony—a longtime owner of a genuinely rare diner who has fought against allowing it to be designated a historic property, and one who has complained about the location being unsafe and unprofitable despite keeping it open 24 hours a day (a tradition that finally ended with the pandemic). Anyone who visits the Tastee Diners in Bethesda and Silver Spring—also owned by Mr. Wilkes—will see a noticeable difference in the general upkeep. Laurel’s diner is clearly a lower priority, and has been for decades, sadly.

For its part, the City of Laurel has also conveniently drawn the boundary of its Historic District around the Tastee Diner. What we’ve ended up with, unfortunately, is an owner who no longer wants to do business in Laurel, and a city administration that wants nothing to do with preserving the historic structure. That’s a surefire recipe for disappointment for the rest of us—and anyone who can actually see the diner’s potential.

So, getting back to the matter at hand, the proverbial word on the street is that the owners of Green Point Wellness—the dispensary that occupies the new building at 116 Washington Boulevard (where the notorious B&E Tavern once stood) is serious about purchasing the full property owned by Mr. Wilkes, which includes the Tastee Diner, the motel, and the large white house that faces the Second Street entrance. Green Point Wellness (whose Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission license number lists their business name as Pure Hana Synergy doing business as Green Point Wellness, for what that’s worth) seems to have eyes on expanding both the physical building and parking availability. And with the new law legalizing cannabis in Maryland taking effect on July 1st of this year, an already lucrative business will undoubtedly be booming. Suddenly, what had seemed for the past decade to be an unreasonably high (no pun intended) asking price for Mr. Wilkes’ property would likely be a very sound investment for the dispensary.

What does this mean for those of us who dread the thought of the diner once again facing the wrecking ball? I think it has to start with the right people talking to the owners of Green Point Wellness. We know from experience that neither Mr. Wilkes nor the City of Laurel (specifically, its Community Redevelopment Authority and its Department of Economic and Community Development) will have any interest beyond seeing the diner sold. (Despite a provision that Mayor Moe had included for Pure Hana Synergy’s potential purchase that would have given the City the right of first refusal for any future sale). As the potential new owner, however, Green Point Wellness will still be here doing business on the site and will have to live with whatever decision they make about the fate of the diner.

I would urge the Laurel Historical Society, Preservation Maryland, and any other likeminded organizations to already begin talks with Green Point Wellness. Urge them to see the value in keeping this rare diner intact—explore ways and costs involved in transporting it to another site (or even storage) if necessary, until a responsible buyer capable of restoring and reinvigorating it comes along.

Fittingly, the same day that I learned about this potential development, I also learned about a unique little hidden gem in Dundalk. Pete Lewnes shared with me that tucked inside the modest Drug City Pharmacy on North Point Road, is a recreated lunch counter that pays homage to the drugstore’s 1954 roots.

The Fountain has been a hit since opening, and is on my short list for a road trip a.s.a.p. This is a perfect example of someone getting it right—recognizing the opportunity to create something special that honors the heritage of its building and community, and has become a destination restaurant. But this is also just a recreation. Imagine what can be done with the original Tastee Diner in the right hands.

Below are pages from the Laurel Leader‘s coverage of the drama that played out the last time a sale was pending. On the evening that the second cover story was published, January 24, 2019, the buyer withdrew their application. Just as I felt then, I’m not at all opposed to the diner being sold—especially with it being clear that Mr. Wilkes no longer wants to operate it. But I hope that any potential buyer recognizes the value in saving the building, which has the added benefit of being literally portable. Please don’t waste that opportunity.


A Revamped!

As we’re suddenly almost into December, it occurred to me that this has probably been the longest I’ve gone without an actual post here on the Lost Laurel blog. But that’s not to say that I haven’t been active, by any stretch of the imagination. Hopefully, you’ve been following along on both the Lost Laurel and Laurel History Boys Facebook pages. Social media certainly has its faults, but it undeniably remains a fantastic way to quickly share photos and engage online.

This has been a particularly busy year for the Laurel History Boys, even with what has effectively been another shutdown in terms of in-person presentations—which, for us, represent the best opportunity to sell our books. In January, we launched Voices of Laurel—a free quarterly newspaper that utilizes writing contributions from a diverse range of people. We’ve published four issues this first year, with each being extremely well received. With more residents becoming aware of the complete lack of local content in the Laurel Leader, they genuinely look forward to our paper, which focuses exclusively on our hometown.

It also occurred to me recently that the Laurel History Boys’ website, which I cobbled together way back in 2015, was long overdue for a refresh. I’m still making a few tweaks, but I’m happy to announce that a bigger and better has officially launched!

I’m especially pleased with how much better it showcases the breadth of work that we do. In addition to better organizing our individual pages for the columns written by Kevin Leonard, Pete Lewnes, and myself, we’ve added a ton of content.

We’ve expanded the History Contributors section to include some fantastic galleries of vintage Laurel photos from the likes of the Berman family and the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad’s collections, and have done a better job of highlighting our many other projects and initiatives—including nearly 30 different free public presentation topics, Voices of Laurel, current and upcoming book projects, videos, and much more.

One such book project I’ve been quietly working on (and we’ll hopefully be in a position to have printed in the new year) is the long awaited follow-up to my Lost Laurel book, and it’s shaping up to be an amazing overview of the retail history of Laurel.

Aside from our book sales, everything we do is free, and we truly bring history to YOU. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we weren’t awarded any of the grants we applied to this year, which was disappointing considering it was our first time applying as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization (and the process itself can be incredibly confusing and time consuming). It’s also frustrating because I see on a daily basis how much we do—with far less than many of the larger organizations who did receive grant funding. That being said, the experience has prompted me to be a bit more aggressive in our future fundraising endeavors.

So, if you’re planning to donate to any of the many worthwhile nonprofit organizations this season (Giving Tuesday is this week, by the way), I hope you’ll consider making a tax deductible gift to The Laurel History Boys, Inc. You’ll find a donation link at the bottom of each page on our new website.

As always, thank you for your interest and for letting us share with you these wonderful pieces of our hometown’s history!

Tagged , , , ,

Voices of Laurel

I’m excited to announce the arrival of a very special new project from the Laurel History Boys.

Voices of Laurel is a new kind of newspaper—a free, quarterly digital edition produced by a diverse range of contributors. It’s not a newspaper in the truest sense of the word, but rather a collection of articles about Laurel written by people from Laurel—history pieces, stories from first responders, hometown memories, profiles, and a whole lot more.

Kevin Leonard and I are producing this through the collaboration of dozens of others—a widely diverse range of writers and contributors who each bring a distinctive voice in their stories about our hometown. Current contributors include representatives from the Laurel Historical Society, Laurel Volunteer Fire and Police Departments, veteran staff from the Laurel Leader, and many more.

We hope you’ll enjoy it, and maybe even lend your voice to future issues! Let me know if you’re interested in becoming a part of it.

Download the inaugural issue here:

Tagged , ,

Farewell, John Floyd

On Saturday morning, I learned the sad news that John Floyd II—a lifelong Laurelite and tremendous source of local historical knowledge and photos—had passed away.

John doing what he did best—happily photographing things around Laurel. (Edit of original photo by Jim Jpchotography via Facebook)

I first met John in 2011 through eBay, of all places. Shortly before starting my Lost Laurel project, I’d been researching the history of Steward Manor Apartments, where I grew up. I came across a set of original 1970s photos being offered on eBay—photos primarily of fire and rescue apparatus from Laurel, Maryland—but which included one that clearly showed Steward Manor in a shot of the Rescue Squad’s heavy truck turning onto Lafayette Avenue in 1974:

I bought the photos, then contacted the seller to inquire about whether or not he had any others that I might be interested in.

Boy, did he ever.

Thus began a frequent email correspondence that, more often than not, included lengthy, detailed narratives from John—emails (through his ancient AOL account, which he steadfastly refused to upgrade from) that were more like photo essays, comprised of images from his massive collection that showcased any number of people, places, and things from Laurel. He thoroughly enjoyed composing these messages, in which he could share with readers a visual journey through any number of topics. Many of these would include “then and now” photos showing various locations around town.

In April 2012, the Laurel Art Center, one of my all-time favorite Laurel businesses, was closing its doors. I made the pilgrimage to soak in the ambiance one final time, and to photograph the store for posterity.

While photographing each aisle, a vaguely familiar looking fellow approached—also holding a camera. “Looks like we had the same idea today,” he said. And within seconds, I realized that this had to be John Floyd.

John at the Laurel Art Center, moments before I met him for the very first time

“John?” I asked. “Rich?” He replied. Despite corresponding via email for the past year, we’d never actually met in person until that afternoon—the final day that the Laurel Art Center was open.

The inspiration for Lost Laurel began, in part, through those earliest interactions with John. As I became more curious about various places from Laurel’s past, he proved to be a dependable resource. Not only that, but he had saved countless photos and artifacts going back decades: newspapers, postcards, carryout menus, telephone directories, receipts, shopping bags, business cards, advertisements, and more—including unopened products from long-closed department stores like Zayre and Jamesway.

For the next couple of years, John combed through his house at 805 Fifth Street—the home built by his stepfather, Harry Fyffe (owner of the infamous Fyffe’s Service Center) where he’d lived since childhood. Every few weeks, John would excitedly notify me that he’d put together a box of Lost Laurel goodies for me, much of which I’ve since shared on Facebook. I would pay him more than a fair price for the stuff, knowing that he would benefit from the “extra dosh”, as he liked to call it, speaking in his British accent—a sample of which you can hear in this short video we recorded promoting my Lost Laurel book:

John was a unique character, to say the least.

I quickly began to suspect that his accent (which wasn’t limited to speech, as he also wrote in the Queen’s English) wasn’t exactly authentic. This occurred to me while I was giving him a ride one day. When the subject of England came up, I asked him, “When was the last time you were over there, John?” Without missing a beat, he replied, “I’ve never actually been there, mate.”

John’s mother, Phyllis, was indeed from Great Britain; but John claimed to have been born during her 1957 transatlantic ship ride over to the United States. Settling briefly in Camden, NJ, they relocated to North Laurel in 1964—living for a time in the old Laurel Park Hotel boarding house near the race track. Phyllis and John Sr. separated, and she eventually met and married Harry Fyffe, who welcomed her and young John into his home on Fifth Street.

Phyllis and Harry Fyffe at home on their wedding day. They didn’t travel far to get married—the service was literally next door at the First Baptist Church of Laurel, which is now home to the Laurel Police Department.
John as a member of the Boy Scouts in 1968.
Harry Fyffe (“Our Harry”, as John liked to call him) in the driveway in 1973.

While John wasn’t a particularly good student, (his Laurel High School report cards consistently show poor grades, and admonishments from frustrated teachers who couldn’t get him to focus on his studies) he was clearly intelligent. And he excelled particularly at music. John’s high school band experience evolved into a lifetime love of vintage big band music, and playing gigs with the Windsor Kessler Orchestra and other bands (including forming his very own Royal Blue Orchestra) was essentially the only career he ever had.

John’s musical career was flourishing by the mid-1980s, but the death of his beloved mother in 1987 took a heavy toll on him. Burdened with medical bills from her cancer treatment, (and a number of poor financial decisions) he nearly lost everything. He then found himself living alone in the house on Fifth Street, (Harry had died back in 1981) likely with no clue that things would essentially remain that way for the next three decades, and for the remainder of his life.

John playing Sousaphone with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in the 2012 Laurel 4th of July Parade

By the summer of 2012, John shared with me that he was having some serious financial difficulties. That was an understatement.

Despite his house having long been paid for, John wasn’t able to cover the annual property tax. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. The home that he’d lived in for half a century was always within a whiff of being taken from him by Prince George’s County over a matter of a couple thousand dollars.

For all of his otherwise brilliance—his musical abilities and his vast knowledge of history—John seemed completely inept at the day to day responsibilities of adulthood. Worse, he’d effectively boxed himself into a corner. Without a car, his job options (which were already limited) became practically nonexistent. And at over 300 lbs. after years of physical inactivity, he had difficulty walking any significant distance.

Since 2004, John had been content at making his living exclusively by selling items on eBay—both his own items, and those on consignment for others. While it was enough for him to get by, his meager earnings were further depleted by nearly constant veterinary bills. Over the years, John had taken in a number of cats. At one point, he had upwards of 16 coming and going on his property, which he deemed “Catford Manor House of Nasty Acres”. John’s heart was in the right place, but taking on the responsibility of caring for so many pets in his circumstances was yet another in a series of poor decisions.

There was a kind of humorous irony in seeing this gentle giant of a man surrounded by felines with names such as “Sweet Pea”, “Baby Number 3”, “Little Grey”, and “Miss Kitten”; but there was nothing funny about his propensity to put their well-being above his own. Frequent and costly veterinary emergencies only hastened the decline of John’s house, which suffered from decades of neglect.

John’s house in January 2020

I organized a fundraiser for John in June 2012 to help pay his overdue property tax bill. He reluctantly agreed to let me tell his story here on Lost Laurel, citing embarrassment and shame at having to accept charity. I explained that it was a better alternative to homelessness, and he agreed. Dozens of people sent money via PayPal and checks to his home, including many folks who’d never met him. Dozens more supported him by purchasing his eBay items. And just in the nick of time, John was able to settle the debt.

But the following years brought little in the way of relief, and I began to notice more of a pattern in how John accepted the charity of others. On the rare occasions when he had a little extra money, (an eBay sale of anything over $50 was a windfall to him) it would quickly disappear. Rather than budget his money and purchase essentials as needed, John would typically splurge at the nearby 7-Eleven on junk food.

Friends and neighbors would also frequently drop by with donations of groceries, toiletries, cat food, and kitty litter, which John would express his gratitude for. But, surprisingly, there were also times when he could be far less gracious. He once commented that a particular brand of soap someone had donated “wasn’t his brand of choice”.

John would also occasionally fall behind in his utility payments, often using money set aside for one bill to pay another—and this would result in lengthy shut offs of his telephone, internet, electric, or all of the above.

He joined Facebook in August of 2012 after months of reluctance. In many ways, it opened some doors for him; but in other ways, it was yet another hindrance to any hope of progress.

John began to use Facebook as a networking tool through which he could sell photo CDs of his extensive collection of historical fire and rescue photos. And he did well for a while, but it wasn’t the most sustainable endeavor. (Once folks had purchased the collection, they weren’t likely to be repeat buyers).

Facebook can be a distraction for many of us, and it was clearly a major distraction for John. I can only begin to guess at the number of hours he spent on Facebook, day and night. John was rarely content to simply “like” a friend’s post—he couldn’t resist commenting on it. And his comments would often include photos that he felt were relevant, which undoubtedly took time for him to locate. His comments—often lengthy tomes on subjects as diverse as circus history and trainspotting—would appear at ungodly hours of the night, too—evidence that he was still sitting at the computer at 3 AM rather than sleeping; rather than taking care of himself, or his responsibilities.

When he inevitably found himself in another financial pickle, he would post about it on Facebook. Those posts almost always began with, “Well, what a revoltin’ situation THIS is …” They would go on to describe the latest predicament, and end with a “Thank you ever so kindly” to those who pledged to help.

By 2014, John somehow seemed to be worse off than he was when I’d met him. Despite increasing dependence on the generosity of others, he was once again facing eviction over nonpayment of property tax. He still refused to seek actual work in earnest, with the exception of putting in a long shot application next door at the Laurel Police Department for a dream position as a dispatcher. When he didn’t get that job, I suspect he never gave any serious consideration to finding another. He’d once noticed a young lady dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume, waving at drivers passing by what was then Liberty Insurance on Gorman Avenue. He made the comment to me that he’d “never lower himself to taking a job doing something like that.” I told him that he might want to rethink that attitude, as she was making an income that he wasn’t.

John had many faults, and while this isn’t meant to be a eulogy for him, I don’t want to overly dwell on the negative. There’s no way of knowing why some people’s lives turn out the way they do; or how much some of our problems are due to bad luck, poor judgment, or something else. I think John had the potential to do a lot more in life, had he really applied himself. But nonetheless, he still managed to touch a lot of lives.

His photography documented not only some incredible moments in Laurel’s history, (including many photos that appeared in the Laurel Leader through the years) but countless fire and rescue vehicles from countless territories. He inspired many of us to look more closely at the mundane around us—to always have a camera at the ready.

I came across this photo recently in the Berman Collection (the family who built Laurel Shopping Center). It’s a scene from the Summer of 1970—one of the many promotions at Laurel Shopping Center featuring what appears to be Keystone Kops. Not surprisingly, there in the center of it all—with camera in hand and a smile on his face—is a young John Floyd.

Photo courtesy of Denny Berman

I’ll always be grateful for having had the chance to know John, and will certainly never forget him. His contributions to Lost Laurel and The Laurel History Boys are immeasurable.

I’m also grateful that he had others who were a tremendous help to him over these difficult years—friends like Bob Bain, Wayne Carr, Pete Lewnes, Bonnie Oskvarek, and many others who so generously helped him with money, transportation, and friendship.

This is the part where John would likely pipe in with that Cockney accent (authentic or not) and tell us, “Oy! Listen up, you lot, and knock off all this bloody sentimental rubbish!”

For so many of us—local historians, firefighters, train buffs, circus enthusiasts, and more—John Floyd has left an indelible impression. Rest in peace, mate.

Update 8/27: I’ve spoken to John’s step-sister, Kellie, and she has agreed to entrust me with his vast photo collection, with the goal of creating a legacy page on to honor his lifelong passion of photographing Laurel. This will be a great honor for me, and a labor of love. I also have no doubt that it’s what John would’ve wanted.

Also, Wayne Carr is in the early stages of planning a Celebration of Life for John, possibly in September or October. Please donate what you can at the GoFundMe link for the event.


Laurel Cancels 150th Anniversary Plans

If you still live in the area, you’ve probably heard by now: all of the City of Laurel’s 150th Anniversary events that had been planned for the summer have been canceled, due to COVID-19 concerns. Sadly, and not surprisingly, this includes the Main Street Festival and 4th of July festivities. It also effectively ends the City’s “Passport to Rewards” program, which was only able to host three of the planned 36 events this year, before the pandemic arrived.

The Laurel History Boys were fortunate to be part of one of the Passport events that did take place back in February, but the remaining two programs that we had planned are postponed. At our “Laurel at 150” event at Partnership Hall, we presented Mayor Craig Moe with the very first copy of our new book—the aptly titled Laurel at 150. While our full supply of books was still en route, the printer had shipped a small number of advance copies, which folks were able to preview that night.

This certainly isn’t the way anyone could’ve envisioned 2020 playing out. Plans that the City had spent the better part of a year making—plans that would’ve seen a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary—had to be put on hold, with the hopes that perhaps we can just do them all next year instead, when it’s safe to gather once again.

I’m both happy and proud that we were still able to produce the Laurel at 150 book before the shutdown kicked in. The full supply was only slightly delayed when it arrived in early April, and Kevin and I have worked diligently to pack, ship, and hand-deliver all of the pre-orders as quickly as we could.

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s an added honor knowing that it’s ended up being the only tangible takeaway for the 150th anniversary—a fact that certainly isn’t lost on me, after learning that a planning committee member had dismissed the book idea as “not worth the time or trouble” last year. We knew it would indeed be worth it, and that it will become a lasting piece of Laurel history in its own right.

While we haven’t yet had the opportunity to sell the books in person at events, they are still available at for $40 each via PayPal. Shipping is free.

As someone recently commented, “Now THAT’S how you celebrate an anniversary. It’s a wonderful way to experience our hometown’s rich history, especially while we’e all stuck at home this year.”

Click here to order

Tagged , , , ,

Laurel at 150 on PGCTV

Our thanks to Patti Vallone and Prince George’s Community Television for the interview and segment on the Laurel History Boys‘ new book, Laurel at 150. Being our first Zoom interview, this was kind of historic for us in its own right! 🙂

Ironically, this year has turned out to be a historic one in a way none of us could have ever foreseen. While we’re certainly glad we finished the book in time for Laurel’s 150th anniversary, it’s unfortunate that COVID-19 hit after it had already gone to print. News of the coronavirus and the City’s excellent response to it definitely would’ve made an important and timely final entry in the book.

Also, the pandemic effectively cancelled all of the City’s planned anniversary events—at least through the summer. This included the Main Street Festival, at which we were expecting to be able to sell books in person. Nonetheless, you can order them online at Books are $40 each and shipping is free.

Kevin and I have caught up on the mailings—we had several hundred pre-orders to package up and ship ourselves, and doing so in the midst of the shutdown was no easy task. But seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from those who’ve received their books has been fantastic, and it just reinforces what we knew from the outset—that this was an important, worthwhile project and a lasting keepsake for Laurel’s 150th anniversary.

Tagged , , ,

New Challenge for Tastee Diner

I think it’s safe to say that nobody could’ve anticipated the unprecedented situation we’re faced with at the moment, with restaurants and other “non-essential” businesses being forced to close for who knows how long. At the moment, there’s no reprieve in sight, unfortunately, and that doesn’t bode well for small businesses—or their employees.

One of our favorite places, the Tastee Diner, is one of many locally-owned small businesses being affected by the pandemic shut down. You can probably count on one hand the number of times the Diner has been closed over the past few decades; but this is something entirely different.

All three Tastee Diners (Laurel, Bethesda, and Silver Spring) have had to close their doors—hopefully just temporarily. Staff members, out of work through no fault of their own, can use our help now more than ever. The owners and managers have started fundraisers and will split the collection amongst the staff. A link to the Laurel location’s GoFundMe page is below. Any amount you’d be willing to pitch in would be most appreciated.

It’s obviously a difficult and uncertain time for everyone; but please consider donating a little something to help these folks who’ve taken such great care of us over the years. Even if it’s just the cost of what you might typically pay for one of those tasty breakfasts that we hope to be enjoying again very soon. Thanks so much.

~ Rich
Tagged , ,

A Final Salute to Shane’s

(Photo: Richard Friend)

When I was a kid in 1979, the year 2020 seemed like an eternity away. I expected there’d be flying cars and routine space travel… Although I didn’t give much thought to who or what might no longer be around. But I’m sure if you asked adults at the time which local businesses would still be in existence over 40 years into the future, Shane’s Sandwich Shop probably wouldn’t have been high on the list. But then again, Shane’s always seemed to fly under the radar.

Improbably, it has lasted. It actually outlived the bowling alley with whom it shares a parking lot.

But, unfortunately, not by much.

We’ve learned that Shane’s is finally closing. Their last day is January 30th.

Word began to spread from saddened regular customers on social media, and even the City of Laurel’s Facebook page posted a tribute:

Like many, I wondered what had happened. Had the owner decided to step back and enjoy a well-earned retirement? Had business slowed after the bowling alley suddenly closed last year?

I received a message from the owner’s niece, Jacqueline, sharing a bit of insight into the situation. As it turns out, Shane’s actually wasn’t planning to close anytime soon. Sadly, that decision was made for them by the landowner, whose attorney notified them that the building had been sold. And, per the terms of their lease, they had 30 days to vacate the premises.

This was a forced closure.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I want to take a moment to look back at this unique little restaurant and appreciate just how it came to be such a staple in our town.


1979 was a pretty good year for Laurel.

The grand opening of Laurel Centre Mall that October was the obvious highlight, with locals waiting anxiously for ten months before getting to explore the new, state-of-the-art shopping facility. The adjacent Laurel Shopping Center received a major facelift that year, too, in complement to the new mall. The Route 1 skyline even changed dramatically, with the rise of the 10-story Arbitron Building.

But earlier in the year, a much smaller business set up shop just a stone’s throw east of the mall, in the parking lot of the Fair Lanes bowling alley on Marshall Avenue. That’s when Shane’s opened with little fanfare—just a series of 25¢ off coupons that April in the Laurel Leader.

(Laurel History Boys collection)

Actually, Shane’s wasn’t totally new. It had previously been Harley’s Sandwich Shop, which had opened in the little building way back in 1966.

Harley’s Sandwich Shops were a big deal in the Baltimore region. Founded by Harley Brinsfield in the 1940s, his sandwich shops became one of the first local fast food chains. Ready to retire by the end of the 1970s, he sold the business to Shane’s—a new franchise eager to take over the Harley’s locations.

(Photo: Richard Friend)
The Harley’s sign is visible in this 1974 photo, just beyond the burning pickup truck. (Photo: John Floyd)

Shane’s was essentially just a rebrand of Harley’s Sandwich Shop. In fact, as noted in the coupon ad above, nothing had changed but the name. The menu remained intact.

Jacqueline’s grandfather, Chang Ik Ham, bought the Laurel franchise location in 1985. Running the little restaurant was truly a family affair and a labor of love, as nieces, nephews, and others routinely pitched in throughout the years.

(Chang Ik Ham family photos)

Mr. Ham worked at the restaurant every day until he was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia in 2001, and passed away just four months later. He was only 69 years old.

His nephew, Sang Chun, took over the business and has worked there tirelessly ever since. Mr. Chun is the gentleman you’ve most likely seen manning the store over the past two decades. He has an uncanny ability to recognize customers and remember their sandwich orders, no matter how long it’s been since their last visit. In fact, if you phone in your order, he typically recognizes your voice and immediately knows which sandwich you’re about to request—that’s not an exaggeration!

Sang Chun, January 25, 2020 (Photo: Richard Friend)

Shane’s (and Harley’s, previously) was practically an extension of the bowling alley. When AMF abruptly closed the bowling alley last August, it came as a shock to all. It had opened back in 1961, and really never lacked for business in its final years, ironically. The bowling alley was, however, hopelessly mismanaged and understaffed, but I digress. Shane’s was as natural a parking lot partner for a bowling alley as you could dream up. More often than not, bowlers would take a break and walk the few steps to Shane’s rather than wait for a second-rate sandwich at the Bowling Alley’s restaurant counter; and then sneak the subs back inside.

In the heyday of “cruising,” Laurel’s teenagers and twenty-somethings inevitably ended up in the Shane’s parking lot at some point over the course of the night. Seeing the parking lot (and the restaurant itself) packed to capacity Saturday night was like a time warp.

Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Photo: Richard Friend)

It was also a clear outpouring of love by locals—and former locals like myself, who’d driven from some distance—to experience Shane’s one last time.

As disappointed as I am that Shane’s is closing, I’m more disappointed for Jacqueline’s family. I constantly hear (usually from elected officials or those in the position of profiting in some way) that “everything has to change at some point.” Believe me, I understand and accept that fact. But it’s the way something like this is changing that angers me. There’s a right way and a wrong way to affect change; and forcing out a small business that’s been here for over 40 years by suddenly giving them 30 days’ notice—that’s the wrong way.

Mr. Chun wasn’t—and isn’t—planning to retire. He’s now forced to find employment, which is always easier said than done, especially after so many years of working for oneself.

“We are beyond saddened about the forced closure. We feel as if we are leaving a part of our family behind with the closure of Shane’s. We all got teary eyed reading comments people left on Facebook of their memories of Shane’s.”

Jacqueline (niece of Sang Chun, owner of Shane’s Sandwich Shop)

Shane’s was one of just a startlingly few long-time local businesses left in Laurel. Think about it for a minute: how many niche places—locally-owned businesses that are unique to Laurel—are still here that existed 40 or more years ago? Bart’s Barber Shop, Dottie’s Trophies, Nuzback’s, The Tastee Diner, Toucan Taco … You can literally count them on one hand.

According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, the property (both Shane’s and the former bowling alley) are owned by iStar Bowling Centers II LP. Jacqueline’s family has heard that the bowling alley will become a Latino grocery store, so perhaps the Megamart (currently sharing the old Dart Drug space on nearby Bowie Road) is relocating into that larger building. But there was no word on what will become of Shane’s after it closes.

Shane’s was one of those rare, beloved businesses that, after so many years of surviving, we assumed it would simply always be around. That’s going to end this week, unfortunately. Please stop by before they close for good on Thursday, January 30th, and savor those subs one last time. More importantly, wish Mr. Chun and his family the best of luck, and thank them for 40-plus years of unrivaled sandwich service.

(Photo: Richard Friend)
Tagged , , , , ,

Tubby’s Diner

Folks from West Laurel especially will remember Tubby’s Diner, which has operated at 5701 Sandy Spring Road (Route 198 just west of Bond Mill Road) for the past quarter century or so. Prior to that, it was The Hitching Post, which dated to at least the mid-1950s.

The building has been modified significantly over the years, but hidden within the stucco façade is actually a log cabin structure that’s been standing since the 1800s.

The Hitching Post in 1955 (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection, courtesy of Martina Darnall-Jones)
The Hitching Post in 1990

Unlike another local diner that dominated Laurel discussions last year, this building isn’t necessarily in any imminent danger. However, it was learned on New Year’s Eve that the diner portion of the business will be closing, as the current owner has apparently decided to expand their liquor store business to occupy the full location.

Unfortunately, it seems that news of the restaurant’s pending closure came as a complete surprise to its longtime staff—and that’s certainly no way to start the new year.

Victoria Collins, one of the many regular customers of Tubby’s, has started a GoFundMe campaign aimed at helping the staff during this difficult time. Please consider donating what you can. All proceeds go to the employees.

Tagged , , ,

Laurel at 150: Pre-order now!

I’m extremely excited to report that The Laurel History Boys‘ most ambitious, most important project to date is officially open for business. On Kickstarter, that is.

Laurel at 150: Celebrate Our History, Anticipate Our Future is a decade-by-decade visual journey through Laurel’s past—a collection of historical highlights covering the pre-1870s through the 2010s. 

Written by Kevin Leonard, author of the popular “History Matters” column in the Laurel Leader, and designed by yours truly, this 200-plus page hardcover book promises to be a uniquely important addition to to the library of anyone interested in the history of this community.

Fifty years ago, the City of Laurel hastily produced a “Centennial Souvenir Booklet” to commemorate the 1970 event. I can vividly recall spending countless hours perusing that booklet during my time working at the Laurel Library. And all these years later, that booklet—for all its faults—remains the primary source of general historical information on our hometown. We’re honored to be creating what we believe will finally eclipse that publication as a thoroughly readable, enjoyable time capsule that will set the stage for the next fifty years and beyond.

This brief teaser video gives you an idea of what the book will be like:

In addition to the history section, you’ll notice that we’ve included an extensive, current directory of local civic organizations. Laurel has a long tradition of volunteerism, and this is a terrific way to acknowledge and promote the fantastic work these groups are doing to serve the greater Laurel community.

The Kickstarter campaign is critical for raising the funds needed to publish this important book. The beauty of crowdfunding is that in the process of reserving your copies of the book, you’re literally helping to get it printed. Without your help—and without meeting our minimum goal—it can’t be funded.

But the campaign is off to a tremendous start. With another 15 days to go, it’s already surpassed the 54% mark.

Everyone who pre-orders their books through Kickstarter will receive a printed credit in the acknowledgments. Plus, there are a number of different reward levels you can choose from.

You can also get a Postmark Laurel book for half price, and save when you pre-order multiple copies of  Laurel at 150. If you’re planning to give books as gifts this holiday season, this is the perfect time to do so!

Here’s something else that makes this extra special. Because The Laurel History Boys are now officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, (EIN: 84-2682931) donations are tax deductible. There are a number of reward levels that will allow you to take advantage of this bonus, whether you simply want to donate to help fund the book, or if you wish to advertise your business or organization with an elegant ad in the book itself. 

Please take a look at the Kickstarter campaign or all the details, and help us by reserving your copies now. The campaign ends on Friday, December 6th at 3PM, and it’s all or nothing—if we aren’t able to meet our minimum goal, we don’t receive any funding. But I’m confident that this project will exceed that goal, enabling us to increase the page count and make it even bigger and better!

Please don’t forget to share the link, too. If you have friends or family with even the slightest interest in Laurel history, they’re going to love it.

Likewise, if you own or know someone who owns a business or organization, please consider one of the tax-deductible sponsorship ads. It’s a unique opportunity to do something good by helping to get this book published; and you’ll get the long-term benefit of having your ad in this special book that will become part of Laurel’s history itself.

Click here to visit the Kickstarter campaign and help get Laurel at 150 published by reserving your copy today!

Tagged , , , , , ,