Category Archives: News

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 LaurelHistory.com 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.

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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 laurelat150.com 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

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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 www.laurelat150.com. 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.

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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

https://www.gofundme.com/f/laurel-tastee-diner
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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

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)
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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.

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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!

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Bon Voyage, Bowling Alley

Over 58 years ago, Fair Lanes began construction on a massive new bowling facility on Marshall Avenue in Laurel. And when it opened on February 4, 1961, it was front page news:

That’s why it was with some shock and sadness that its abrupt closure earlier this week came with no fanfare whatsoever.

Somehow, in spite of the rise of video game popularity and other entertainment alternatives through the years, Laurel’s bowling alley not only remained open—it thrived. In fact, even when Fair Lanes itself went bust in 1995, AMF took over and kept it going.

I’ve written about what the bowling alley has meant to me before, (see here and here) so I won’t rehash too much. Suffice it to say, it was always a very special and familiar place, no matter how much it changed… or how much I changed. It even enjoyed an improbable rebirth in 2014, when duckpins returned to the bowling alley after 25 years.

Learning of its closure feels like losing an old friend. And with Laurel’s classic businesses now practically an endangered species, losing the bowling alley is losing a generational icon.

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Postmark Laurel: Kickstarter campaign now live!

Nearly five years ago, I launched a Kickstarter campaign that resulted in the successful publishing of my very first book—Lost Laurel. It was a tremendous experience; and the crowdfunding aspect allowed me to create a better product and make it available to a broader audience. In addition to selling the entire supply, I was able donate copies to Laurel High School and the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (where I worked throughout high school and college, shelving books!)

Although I hadn’t pushed a book cart in 20 years, I took a moment at the grand opening of the new Stanley Memorial Library to ceremoniously re-shelve my Lost Laurel books!


In the years since, many folks have asked me, “When will you create another book?” I’m happy to report that I’m doing exactly that. In fact, while there are three other books that I’m currently working on with the Laurel History Boys, I’ve officially launched the Kickstarter campaign for this one—Postmark Laurel: Historic Picture Postcards of Laurel, Maryland.

The book is a surprisingly diverse collection of over 120 different postcards from Laurel, dating from the early 1900s to the late 1980s, faithfully reproduced at full size—front and back.

In fact, the correspondence on some of the cards is often as charming as the cards themselves. Check out this one, and remember that it was mailed from laurel 110 years ago:

The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the printing and distribution of a first run of books, and it’s also a chance for you to have a part in its creation. As an early backer of the project, your name will appear printed in the book’s acknowledgments. There are also different pledge levels, in which you can not only purchase the book, but some of the original historic postcards themselves!

The campaign runs for 30 days, and is an all-or-nothing endeavor. So please make your pledges now, and share the link with friends and family to ensure that the minimum goal is met. If the goal is exceeded, I can upgrade the book—including making a hardcover edition.

If funded, all books should be printed and delivered by this July—plenty of time for Christmas gifts!

Click here or the image below to visit the official Kickstarter page and reserve your copies now!

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“The People Have Spoken.”

Only minutes into the long-awaited Board of Appeals hearing last night at the Laurel Municipal Center, there was a major surprise when an attorney for Pure Hana Synergy—the applicant attempting to purchase the Tastee Diner—addressed the committee in the opening moments.

Photo: John Mewshaw

“The people have spoken, and we have heard. For that reason and out of respect for the community’s wishes, we have decided to withdraw the special exception application.”

Richard K. Reed, attorney for Pure Hana Synergy

And just like that, the meeting was adjourned. I’m very happy to report that the legendary Tastee Diner will not be turning into a medical marijuana dispensary, thanks largely in part to those who signed the petition and supported the efforts to save this rare and special building.

While our community activism certainly played a big role in this result, those of us rallying to “save the diner” actually shouldn’t get all the credit (or the blame, depending which side of the fence you were on) for the Pure Hana deal falling through. It ultimately came down to the City of Laurel’s own Municipal Code, which includes strict criteria for medical marijuana dispensaries—more than one of which should have disqualified Pure Hana from ever applying for the Tastee Diner location in the first place.

First, there was the issue of the “one mile rule” in relation to any other medical marijuana dispensary.

This rule was initially the focus of some creative interpretation, as the Diner site is well within one mile of Revolution ReLEAF, the dispensary just north on Route 1 at the former Sam & Elsie’s bar. Pure Hana proponents likely would have argued that because Revolution ReLEAF is located outside of the 21st District in Howard County, the one-mile rule doesn’t apply—even though the COMAR code clearly says that “the premises may not be located within one-mile of any other licensed premises.” It doesn’t specify District limits.

Compounding the problem for Pure Hana was the recent approval of another dispensary just barely* (*depending on how one measures it) one mile south at the Tower Plaza shopping center on Route 1 at Cherry Lane. Department of Economic and Community Development staffers claimed that “It’s very close, but they just meet (the one-mile requirement).”

But again, the code seems open to interpretation. How exactly is the distance measured—is it door to door, or is it from property edge to property edge? The distance between the Diner’s location and that of this new dispensary set to open soon at Tower Plaza could also easily have been challenged.

When the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of Pure Hana’s application on December 11th, the simple proximity to these existing dispensaries was the real reason. To loud applause that night, chairman Rick Wilson had explained, “I strongly believe that we have adequate coverage of medical marijuana.”

But it’s actually another rule in the Municipal Code that likely would have nullified this deal for good.

Because he didn’t have the opportunity to speak at last night’s hearing after all, I asked City Council member Carl DeWalt if I could publish the text of what he’d planned to say. With his permission, here it is:

Good evening. My name is Carl DeWalt. I retired from 22 years with the Laurel Police Department and proudly represent the Ward 1 Citizens of Laurel on the City Council.
 
I am here tonight to urge the Board of Appeals to uphold the decision of the Laurel Planning Commission to not recommend approval of the application of Pure Hana, also known as SH Realty Holdings LLC, to operate a medical cannabis dispensary.
 
While I believe that the Tastee Diner has important historical value and should be preserved, that is not the reason I am here tonight.
 
Two reasons lead to the conclusion that not only was the Planning Commission correct in its recommendation, but the Pure Hana application should not have proceeded to this point at all.
 
First.  We have enough marijuana dispensaries.

As the Planning Commission noted, Laurel already has an approved Medical Marijuana Dispensary set to open very shortly.

• Distance is very close to the 1-mile mark, and if one uses the traditional legal definition of premises, the case can be made that the Blue Pharma company dispensary is less than a mile –4905 feet property line to property line.

• There is a dispensary in Howard County—Revolution ReLEAF.  The Laurel Code states: “The premises may be not located within one-mile of any other licensed premises of a licensed dispensary of Medical Cannabis.”

This dispensary is less than a mile —.07 miles—from the proposed dispensary, and while some may say the fact that it is in another jurisdiction means any restrictions don’t apply, I would disagree. A mile is a mile, and the law does NOT state “within a mile…within the Laurel City limits.”

• Do we really need 3 dispensaries in a 1.8-mile radius?

• There is another dispensary operating on Rt 198, in Burtonsville.

• How many medical dispensaries do we need?

• How many do we need in the Laurel City limits?

• When the City passed its amendment to the unified code, was their intention to make Laurel a marijuana mecca?  I don’t think so. I hope not. And I hope you don’t think so either.
 
My second, and more important point addresses the fact that this application should never have been allowed to proceed this far.

• WHY. The Tastee Diner location disqualifies it from being a medical marijuana dispensary.

The Laurel amendments to the special exceptions in the unified code state:
Premises shall not be located within 1000 feet of a lot line of a public or private school, or real property owned by the Prince George’s county Board of Education or house of worship.
 
I draw your attention to the Prayer Tower Bible Way Apostolic Faith Church, 12 2nd St, Laurel, MD 20707.

1. Image of sign and Church entrance. This well-established faith community is less than 1,000 feet from the Tastee Diner. As the crow files, its 668 feet door to door. Less if you consider it lot line to lot line—which is the proper measurement.

Walking along established roads it is 747 feet. 

2. How do I know these figures? Google Maps Distance feature, P.G. County’s own tool, P.G. Atlas, a laser Bushnell range finder and a surveyor measuring wheel. Under any measurement, the distance between Tastee Diner and the Prayer Tower Bible Way Apostolic Faith Church is less than 1000 feet.

3. According to the City’s own ordinance, which says a dispensary must be 1,000 feet from a house of worship, this application does not qualify for approval.
 
On the basis of both these factors I ask you to uphold the Planning Board’s recommendation.

Thank you.

Carl DeWalt

I suspect that no one—from either the Pure Hana camp or within the City of Laurel’s Department of Economic and Community Development—ever noticed that there is, in fact, a church less than 1,000 feet from the Tastee Diner.

Perhaps because it isn’t in what we’d consider a traditional church structure, it was simply overlooked. But there it is—in the small strip mall at the opposite end of Dottie’s Trophies.

Photos: Carl DeWalt

Between the sheer number of other dispensaries in the area, the questionable distance between dispensaries both north and south of the Diner, and now the realization that there’s an established church less than 700 feet away, it’s now clear that this location was just never meant to be a medical marijuana dispensary.

While I think we’d all love to know how the Board of Appeals would have voted, it’s probably best for the City of Laurel that they didn’t have to. Because had they somehow decided to overturn the Planning Commission’s recommendation—especially in light of these facts—the optics would have been quite bad.

For the record, I don’t suspect that they would have done that. But I both admire and respect Pure Hana’s decision to withdraw their application.

While the immediate threat has been eliminated, the Diner’s future is still very much in jeopardy, however. Owner Gene Wilkes was understandably disappointed in the deal falling through, and remains eager—perhaps more so than ever—to sell the property. After last night’s meeting adjourned, he hinted at considering simply “closing it down and boarding it up.” Given the resurgence of business since news of the potential sale first broke, let’s hope that Mr. Wilkes doesn’t make any such rash decisions. But that’s something that we, as supporters of the Diner, need to help with—please continue to frequent the Diner and encourage others to do so as well.

Saturday’s “Diner Appreciation Day” saw a fantastic outpouring of support—support that can be sustained. People who may have taken the Diner for granted over the years are thankfully rediscovering its appeal, and they’re spreading the word; and those who are experiencing it for the very first time are quickly hooked on its authenticity, and its affordability

It’s entirely fitting that on the very day that the dispensary drama would be resolved, the latest issue of the Laurel Leader came out with this as the cover story.

Now is the time for the City of Laurel to work with Mr. Wilkes on a way to purchase the Diner for the City’s Historic District. Mayor Craig Moe has already gone on the record, asking that Laurel be given the right of first refusal for any future sale—well, that availability is here. And with the help of state and county preservation grants, crowdfunding, and willing investors, it can be done—and the long term benefits would be immeasurable.

In the meantime, please continue to to support the Tastee Diner and its hardworking staff. Packing that parking lot on a regular basis is the surest way to keep the City’s attention… and more importantly, to keep the Diner open. 

For more on this story:

Washington Post coverage

Laurel Leader coverage

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