Category Archives: News

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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Tastee Diner: Planning Commission DENIES Dispensary

I brought a good luck charm with me to City Hall. (Photo: Mike Oakes)

On Tuesday night, a rare capacity crowd filled the Laurel Municipal Center to help determine the fate of the Tastee Diner—the sale of which is pending to Pure Hana Synergy, the medical marijuana dispensary which plans to modify the historic building to fit its usage. After an emotional session that ran over an hour and a half, the City’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the recommendation to the Board of Appeals.

The full hearing is below, courtesy of Laurel TV, with the Diner agenda item beginning at the 27:35 mark:

Pure Hana’s owner, Francesca DeMauro-Palminteri, spoke at length about her intention to bring the alternative medicine to Laurel, citing its benefits—particularly to veterans suffering from PTSD and other disabilities.

Members of the Planning Commission had a few initial questions for Christian Pulley and Robert Love of the City’s Department of Economic and Community Development, who’d frankly treated this hearing as a formality. When asked for an update on the City’s most recently approved dispensary—Mr. Love reported that the facility plans to open in approximately 30 days in the shopping center at Route 1 and Cherry Lane.

They were also asked about the fact that only two licensed dispensaries are allowed per district. Laurel is part of the 21st District, which as you can see, is quite large:

The district extends across both Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, from College Park to Odenton—and only two dispensaries are allowed to serve it. Laurel already has one of them—the aforementioned dispensary slated to open next month at Route 1 and Cherry Lane. If Pure Hana is awarded the second location, both would be in the city of Laurel limits—barely over a mile apart (and take special note of that—we’re going to come back to this point shortly).

The concern from the Commission was valid—isn’t that going to cause yet another traffic problem, with everyone in the 21st District having to come to Laurel?

The issue of the two dispensaries barely being over a mile apart is critical, as Mr. Rick Wilson pointed out that the distance between 118 Washington Blvd. and the new dispensary at Cherry Lane is not the 1.1 miles that the City claims. “It’s more like 5,281 and a quarter feet,” the commissioner said. Mr. Love acknowledged that “It’s very close, but they just meet it.”

The anxiously-awaited public hearing was opened, and a number of speakers approached the podium, including Jhanna Levin of the Laurel Historical Society—who lamented the negotiation between Pure Hana and Mayor Craig Moe last Friday, which would still result in the destruction of the diner.

I made the trip to Laurel to speak as well, hoping to remind the Commission of the importance of preserving the diner as it currently is—fully intact—and taking advantage of this incredible opportunity to work with all involved to move it to Main Street, rather than have it be sacrificed in the construction of a new dispensary. You can see my presentation at the 58:47 mark of the video above, but it’s transcribed below:

I started the petition that now has over 2,300 signatures urging the city to find a way to relocate the historic—and it is historic—Tastee Diner to Main Street.


There’s a line in the 1982 Barry Levinson film, Diner, that says simply, “We always have the diner.” For nearly 90 years, that’s a sentiment that’s been true in Laurel. Not only have we always had the diner, it’s been open around the clock—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only time it’s closed, is Christmas Day. So it’s sadly ironic that as we near the holidays, this might be the end of the road. Worse, the City’s rushing to push this sale through.


Pure Hana isn’t just taking over any old building. It’s taking over a legacy. Because we have always had the diner.


If you grew up in Laurel, you know it’s part of the city’s fabric. Your parents ate at this diner before you were born… Your grandparents ate at this diner. If you were fortunate to grow up and leave Laurel for bigger and better opportunities, you knew that whenever you came back, you’d always have the diner.


That’s something not many towns can be proud of anymore. An authentic diner that’s literally served us for generations is something that should be celebrated—not rushed to its demise.


I’ll say this again: The City of Laurel has a chance to do something truly special.


When you first learned that this diner was quietly up for sale, something should’ve clicked in your collective mind… and said, “We need to save this building… We need to move this diner to Main Street.” Even if you didn’t realize what you had, you’re surrounded by people who value this town’s history. And we would’ve told you in a heartbeat.


The City refuses to explore any of these ideas for relocating the diner, where it could be revitalized under new ownership—and Pure Hana could open according to their original plans, without this façade modification that would only serve as a constant reminder of a lost opportunity for us all.


The City already has resources—the Maryland Main Street designation, packed with relocation incentives; the Community Redevelopment Authority, who’s been conspicuously and inexcusably absent through all of this, despite owning the very land on Main Street that could accommodate the diner.


You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something truly good for Laurel—something that could transform Main Street for generations to come. So that your children… and your children’s children, will also be able to say, “We always have the diner.”


I’ve explained why this would be a good thing. Before you agree to this sale, it’s time for the City to explain why they think it isn’t.


Of the three Tastee Diners in Maryland, only Laurel’s has never been listed as a historic landmark. This is a grievous oversight by the City, which has always had the authority to designate it. It’s one of only two remaining Comac diners known in existence. It’s the model that inspired the American stainless steel diner archetype. Regardless of what Mayor Moe or anyone else says, it is historic. And it belongs on Main Street.


When the diner’s previous owners, Walter and Harry Susini, signed the first lease in 1933, they purchased the land from John H. Fetty—who happened to be Laurel’s mayor at the time. The deed says that the property already included a building “known as the Laurel Diner”.
So it’s ironic that this diner’s lengthy history actually began with a mayor who made sure it was poised for long-term success. Today’s mayor, for whatever reason, seems a little too eager to be rid of it.

Richard Friend

After the final speaker had shared her concerns about the potential loss of this essential piece of the community, the Planning Commission set about its business. And the subject of distance and oversaturation came up again in the motion made by Rick Wilson.

Reminding those in attendance that the Commission’s role isn’t to determine anything other than whether or not Pure Hana can put their dispensary at this address, Mr. Wilson stated,

I strongly believe that we have adequate coverage of medical marijuana. Anybody that needs it can drive 3,700 feet from this location to the north and go to an existing dispensary… four and a half miles to Burtonsville, and there’s an existing dispensary… and 5,282 feet to Cherry Lane, and there will be a dispensary within X number of days. I don’t believe we need another dispensary. So I would move that we deny the recommendation to the Board of Appeals.

Hon. G. Rick Wilson

Those in attendance (at least, those not on the Pure Hana payroll) broke into applause—applause that only intensified when Mr. John Kish seconded the motion, and the reality began to sink in that this sale was not going to be approved. As the roll was called, each member of the Commission unanimously carried the motion.

Washington Post reporter Dana Hedgpeth (who’d just written a great piece in Sunday’s paper) was there for a follow-up report, and Fox 5 News was on the scene to produce a segment as well—which I had the surreal pleasure of watching on one of the TVs at (where else?) the Tastee Diner.

While at the diner, decompressing with a grilled cheese and cold beer, one of the cooks appeared from the back kitchen. Charles Durocher, a Vietnam veteran who proudly displays that honor on the baseball cap he wears, came over and shook my hand. The diner staff had been watching the Laurel TV broadcast of the Planning Commission meeting live. “I just wanted to say thank you.” Charles is one of at least two veterans I know of who work at the diner—hardworking veterans who’ve continued to do their jobs in spite of the palpable fear that the business will soon be sold.

I immediately thought of the veterans that Ms. DeMauro-Palminteri had spoken of earlier in the evening, and wondered if she’s aware of the veterans at the diner, whose modest jobs depend on that diner staying open.

Pure Hana didn’t comment after the ruling, but they’re expected to appeal the decision at the December 20th Board of Appeals meeting, also at the Laurel Municipal Center, starting at 7PM. I would urge everyone to attend that meeting as well, just in case the Boardmembers interpret anything differently.

Speaking of interpreting things differently, here’s something that might be critical…

After talking to Councilman Carl DeWalt, the stipulation that dispensaries must be at least one mile from each other within the city took an interesting turn. Is that rule really limited to “within the city”—or is it literal?

Here’s an excerpt from Laurel’s Unified Land Development Code, which actually cites the rule as defined in the Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”):

I’m not a lawyer—or a politician, (and God knows I’d never want to be either) but that document doesn’t say anything about the one-mile rule being limited exclusively to within the City of Laurel. It says “The premises may not be located within one-mile of ANY other licensed premises of a licensed dispensary of Medical Cannabis”. And it says that’s a Maryland regulation, not a City of Laurel one.

If that interpretation is correct, now you have to take into account the even shorter distance between the diner’s location at 118 Washington Blvd. and Revolution ReLeaf—the dispensary just up the street at the former Sam & Elsie’s. That’s definitely less than a mile away. Or, as Rick Wilson astutely noted, it’s only 3,700 feet away.

Needless to say, somebody’s going to have a lot of explaining to do, if it turns out that Pure Hana never should’ve even gotten this far along in the process. That seems like an important point that they should’ve squared away long before any of these plans developed.

That having been said, assuming the Board of Appeals upholds the Planning Commission’s recommendation, what’s next? We’ve finally heard from Tastee Diner owner Gene Wilkes, who admitted to the Washington Post that he’s had it up for sale for the past five years. He still wants to sell, and at 75 years old, that’s certainly his right.

Now is the perfect opportunity for the City of Laurel to rectify a few things. The diner needs to be given the historic designation it deserves, first and foremost. Next, the City of Laurel should be the ones to purchase it from Mr. Wilkes.

Let’s not forget the City’s press release from November 30th, which stated:

All agreed that the site of the current Tastee Diner is a notable landmark and a building that is very worthy of preservation for historical reasons.

“Mayor Reaches Agreement with Developer of Tastee Diner Site,” Press Release, 11/30/18

It also said something else:

The Mayor has also asked the developer to allow the City of Laurel to have the right of first refusal for any future sale of the Diner. 

“Mayor Reaches Agreement with Developer of Tastee Diner Site,” Press Release, 11/30/18

Those are quotes directly from the City’s press release, finally acknowledging what we’ve been trying to tell them all along. Now it’s time to hold them to it, and encourage them to explore the available options. But it has to start by talking with diner owner Gene Wilkes—and doing it with transparency this time.

Mayor Moe has stated that the city-owned vacant lot at 312 Main Street will likely become a parking lot. I still say that site would be perfect to relocate the diner to—fully intact, and fully operational. As an official part of the Historic District, (and officially a historic property) it would become eligible for those preservation benefits we’ve talked about, which Preservation Maryland and Maryland Milestones will be all-too eager to assist with.

Wouldn’t the City be more interested in developing the lot at 118 Washington Blvd. themselves? Wouldn’t a parking lot there make more sense, given the proximity to the MARC train station?

These are all questions we need to consider over the next few days. I can’t begin to express how proud I am of the City’s Planning Commission for their unanimous decision, but we still need to call upon the Board of Appeals to uphold their recommendation. Please attend that meeting next Thursday, December 20th at 7PM at the Municipal Center.

I sincerely hope the City of Laurel is listening this time around. Remember, despite this initial victory, the Tastee Diner is still up for sale. But now there’s a real opportunity—and path—for the City to do the right thing and make it a legitimate part of Laurel’s Historic District.

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Tastee Diner: Mayor’s Press Release

Keychain, 1980s. Lost Laurel collection

Late Friday afternoon, the City of Laurel issued the following press release:

“Today Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe and members of his Senior Management Staff met with Ms. Francesca DeMauro-Palminteri owner of Pure Hana Synergy Medical Dispensary and the developer of the property at 118 Washington Blvd, Laurel, Maryland, and her development consultants and Mr. Douglas Hayes, Chair, City of Laurel Historical District Commission.

All agreed that the site of the current Tastee Diner is a notable landmark and a building that is very worthy of preservation for historical reasons. It has never been the desire of the City or the developer to demolish or remove the Tastee Diner from its location.

Ms. DeMauro-Palminteri has agreed with the Mayor’s proposal to keep the Tastee Diner in its location and reuse the building for her business, to allow the diner to be visible and not encapsulated by a structure around it and to provide for signage providing historical information about the Diner. It was also agreed that the developer would include in the development plans the placement of silhouettes in some of the windows of the Diner to further enhance the historic aesthetics of the building façade.

The Mayor has also asked the developer to allow the City of Laurel to have the right of first refusal for any future sale of the Diner.

Attendees saw new proposals for the renovation of the property and the thoughtful reuse of the Tastee Diner façade and building and agreed it met their goals and that of the community members who spoke at the Mayor and City Council meeting on Monday, November 26, 2018.

Mayor Moe stated “It is good to have the developer listen to the City and the residents of the community, and take action, the right action, that will preserve the Tastee Diner, while adding a nice reuse of the building.”

Chairman Douglas Hayes stated his satisfaction that this is a “good reuse of the building, and the new drawings of the Tastee Diner are outstanding, keeping the Tastee Diner building at its present location while adding a new business to the Route 1 corridor.”

Ms. DeMauro-Palminteri stated that she was “thankful to the community for their input and the assistance she has received from the City of Laurel.” Ms. DeMauro-Palminteri also stated she would be happy to work with the members of the Laurel Historical Society to donate some of the Tastee Diner furniture from inside the diner and signage.

The City of Laurel Planning Commission will hear the special exception application on the property at 118 Washington Blvd. on December 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm, the public is invited.”

Released on November 30, 2018 – 4:10pm  |  cityoflaurel.org

When announced on their Facebook page under the subjective headline of “Good news for the future preservation of the Tastee Diner,” the press release was met with a hearty serving of derision, support… and confusion:

I was confused as well. Not by what is now being proposed, but by how we got here.

Suddenly, the City is claiming that the diner “is a notable landmark and a building that is very worthy of preservation for historical reasons.” Most of them did not feel that way up until yesterday.

The agreement that Mayor Craig Moe reached with Pure Hana Synergy is better than the alternative—that being the total encapsulation and hiding of the diner that was in their original plans. But it is in no way what I’ve been suggesting, and what over 1,900 people to date have signed the petition for.

The petition calls for the City to explore ways to have the best of both worlds—to allow Pure Hana Synergy to still build their dispensary on the site, but to procure the historic portion of the diner, ultimately finding a developer who could revitalize it on Main Street where it could continue as a functioning, authentic diner. That has been my goal from the start.

I posed that idea to Mayor Moe in an email on November 1st—exactly one month ago today, and weeks before starting the petition. He never replied.

Despite a very select few at City Hall—chiefly Councilman Carl DeWalt—I can assure you that the City was not interested in preserving anything about the Tastee Diner. Which makes their press release ironic at best.

When all of the facts come out, I think we’ll discover that Pure Hana Synergy was lead to believe that not only did the City have zero interest in preserving the diner, they were anxious to be rid of it—quickly and quietly. I think we’ll also discover that the reason they’re insisting on repurposing the diner (rather than the logical building of a new structure from scratch on the larger lot) is to take advantage of grandfathered utilities clauses that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them.

That being said, I’m disappointed that the mayor decided to have a closed-door meeting, attended only by him and his “senior management staff”—which, curiously, did not include the City Council—and certainly not anyone from the Laurel Historical Society, who’d also lobbied for the removal and preservation of the diner car. This group alone created the unilateral agreement outlined in their press release.

The agreement suggests that the exterior façade of the diner will now become an integral part of Pure Hana Synergy’s new building. But that’s all that will remain of it—the interior will be completely gutted, and the diner—one of only two remaining Comac models in existence—will be effectively destroyed.

Yes, it’s a small victory that our historic diner will in some way be adaptively preserved, but let’s be honest—what a complete waste of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this was for the City of Laurel, and Main Street in particular. The integrated look that Pure Hana Synergy is now promising to create using the façade of the diner could have been achieved by a new developer on Main Street—where we would have still had a fully-functioning diner.

The fact that the City was so unwilling to explore any of the many available resources to achieve this reflects poorly on its leaders. And the lack of transparency as it pertains to the CRA (the Donna Crary-led Community Redevelopment Authority that has purchased properties on Main Street which could have easily housed the relocated diner) is even more troublesome. Not once was the CRA part of the discussion, nor would the City respond to multiple requests to explain their absence.

This particular statement in the press release—“It has never been the desire of the City or the developer to demolish or remove the Tastee Diner from its location”—reminded me of a similarly laughable story I heard a few years ago. Without naming names, suffice it to say that a popular longtime Laurel businessman (who, like many in Laurel politics, has little affinity for historic preservation) once relayed the following:

“Someone once claimed to have found some Native American artifacts on my property, and approached me about preserving the land to ensure that they wouldn’t be disturbed. I promised him that I’d come up with a solution that would preserve the artifacts exactly where they were, and that no one would be able to touch them. He was satisfied with that, so I paved over it and made it a parking lot.”

Keeping the Tastee Diner in its original location, even with this amended plan that promises to no longer encapsulate it, hardly saves it. It will, however, be a constant reminder of what might have been.


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Tastee Diner: City Council Meeting Recap

NBC4’s Jackie Benson knew she was in Laurel Monday night, even if one of her video producers apparently didn’t.

Laurel/Lanham… what’s the difference, right? Well, Laurel is the one with the rare Tastee Diner that may soon be disappearing.

Benson was in town covering the Mayor and City Council Meeting. Or, just the City Council Meeting, as it were—attendees were informed that Mayor Craig Moe was actually still in Florida for the holiday.

The reason for the local news coverage was the general public hearing, in which representatives from the Laurel Historical Society and the City of Laurel’s own Historic District Commission Chairman spoke eloquently in favor of saving the diner.

After Jhanna Levin, Douglas Hayes, and Karen Lubieniecki spoke to rousing applause, City Council President Mike Leszcz offered only a terse reply:

That was it—no further elaboration. And whether Mr. Leszcz intended it or not, the impression it gave was that the Mayor and City Council don’t have a say in whether the sale of the diner is approved or not. That decision now falls on the Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals.

That being duly noted, the purpose of calling attention to the Mayor and City Council in the first place was never to block to the sale of the property at all. It was simply to urge them to do their due diligence in exploring options that might allow them to successfully take ownership of the historic 1951 Comac-built diner car, and relocate it to benefit Main Street—without adversely affecting Pure Hana Synergy’s plans to build their dispensary at the diner’s former location.

If you watch that NBC4 segment (again, ignoring the fact that it says “Lanham” throughout the piece) Mr. Leszcz makes a statement to Jackie Benson:

Mr. Leszcz, whom I know not only has a deep appreciation for Laurel’s history, but for the Tastee Diner itself—at the City Council meeting, he spoke at length of his fondness for it and his memory of the Tuozzo family, who co-owned the diner along with the Sussinis before Gene Wilkes took over in 1976. But you don’t have to read between the lines here to see that he hasn’t exactly been looking for a creative solution to save it.

Why would he say that the City doesn’t have the money, when he literally just admitted that he doesn’t know how much it would actually cost to move the diner?

That’s exactly why we approached the Mayor and City Council with this petition in the first place—to seek those answers. To seek out partners like Preservation Maryland and Maryland Milestones Heritage Area who are literally asking to help with this endeavor. Partners who have the knowledge and means to assist with grants and other incentives that the City Council seems to know very little about, frankly.

And make no mistake, that’s their duty. Elected officials are supposed to have the City’s best interest in mind, and constantly seek creative ways to benefit Laurel for the long term. Not to simply facilitate a sale in the interest of “cleaning up” a blighted block.

And honestly, my perception thus far has been that some at City Hall—certainly not everyone, by any means—have viewed this idea of saving the diner as an act of sheer folly; that it’s somehow an inconvenience to them to even have to entertain such an impossible notion of moving that diner.

If that’s indeed the case, I think that’s incredibly shortsighted and irresponsible to not even consider what might be achieved on Main Street by preserving and revitalizing such a rare piece of history—a piece of history that is otherwise going to be lost so unnecessarily in the building of this dispensary.

Mr. Leszcz’s comment about the City not having the money for something like this kind of stands at odds with another point he brought up at the meeting—about Laurel’s Community Redevelopment Authority, and their recent purchase of the Gude Mansion at Laurel Lakes, which I assume the City plans to extensively renovate with the idea of renting the facility out for weddings and such. That can’t be cheap. But then, good investments usually aren’t. Regardless, it prompted me to take a look at the public land records for these recent purchases, including the old Laurel Theatre at 312 Main Street, and the Laurel Town Lodge boarding house at 41 B Street.

I’m sure these were wise investments–I don’t doubt that for a moment. They’re investments that will eventually benefit the city in various ways. But they raise two very big questions: are they any wiser than investing in relocating the diner to Main Street, where a new owner could be incentivized to renovate it into something truly special? And should the City really be so quick to dismiss a creative idea with the notion that they “don’t have the money”?

That being said, the next step is the December 11th Planning Commission Meeting, followed by the December 20th Board of Appeals meeting.


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Tastee Diner Update: Please Attend 11/26 City Council Meeting

Up until about a week ago, there was no outward indication that the Tastee Diner was in the process of being sold. There had been no talk of closing, no sign announcing a public hearing, no “word on the street” from regulars or staff about impending changes. It was still business as usual. But seeing surveyors on the property recently was an obvious clue—one that foreshadowed the extensive plans we’re now aware of.

One minute, life at the diner was essentially the same as it has been for the past 67 years. But seeing the drastic plans that Pure Hana Synergy has for wrapping the iconic structure changed all that in an instant. It became immediately clear that a part of Laurel that most of us have known all our lives will soon be changing. 

Change is, of course, inevitable. And it can actually be a good thing. Aside from missing the regularity of the Tastee Diner—knowing that it’s always open for us where it has been for all these years—there’s nothing wrong with longtime owner Gene Wilkes wanting to sell the property to a new industry that promises to beautify that entire section of Route 1. If it were to result in the diner being moved to a new location on Main Street and operated under new management—a new owner with the incentives and resources that today’s Main Street promises—this could be a very good change, indeed.

But it has to start with a dialogue between the City, the owner, and the buyer. And it has to begin quickly. There are undoubtedly some who would prefer to see the diner simply disappear. They may not understand or appreciate the history or rarity of it, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they’re right in allowing it to be unnecessarily destroyed—especially when there’s such a tremendous opportunity at stake for the City to capitalize on relocating it to Main Street.

Within a week, this petition to save the diner has topped 1,600 signatures. To give you some perspective, that’s a significantly larger number than any winning Laurel politician typically receives in votes.

It’s a growing number of people who, upon learning that a place that remains relevant to them is suddenly endangered, want to do something to preserve it. And I mean the word “preserve” in the literal sense—most people, including many within the City of Laurel government, simply were not aware of the historic nature of our diner. Once ubiquitous, this 1951 Comac model is now one of only two that survive intact. 

Pure Hana Synergy may very well be willing to relinquish the historic silver portion of the diner car without adversely affecting the plans for their new building. But the City of Laurel needs to work with them to help facilitate this. Preservation Maryland has already reached out to express their willingness to help in this process—now is the time to begin discussing what can be done in earnest to save and revitalize our diner in a new location. 

But real questions still need to be asked—and answered—before this sale should be finalized. Namely, if Pure Hana were to insist on proceeding as planned with wrapping the full diner building, why? Are there some grandfathered clauses that would somehow allow them more benefits or loopholes if they were to keep the building, despite modifying it beyond recognition?

It seems odd that they would propose demolishing both the motel and large house on the property, yet build around the small diner rather than simply raze it as well. Again, I’m not opposed to the sale, but I cannot believe that they would need the actual diner car to proceed with their plans. And the City of Laurel would be wasting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relocate a unique and historic business to Main Street, should they allow this to go forward unchallenged.

Please go to the next City Council meeting on Monday, November 26th at 7PM, and let them know that you signed the petition—along with over 1,600 other people who want to see our historic diner preserved and moved to Main Street.

Laurel Municipal Center
8103 Sandy Spring Rd
Laurel, MD 20707
Mayor and City Council Meeting
Monday, November 26, 2018
7:00pm to 9:00pm

In addition to attending the City Council meeting, two other KEY MEETINGS are the DECEMBER 11th Planning Commission Meeting and the DECEMBER 20th Board of Appeals meeting.

If you can’t attend in person, please email the Clerk to the City Council (clerk@laurel.md.us) and the buyer, Pure Hana Synergy (info@purehanasynergy.com) and express your wish to save our diner.

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