Tag Archives: Dart Drug

Laurel’s Safeway(s)

While I was growing up at Steward Manor during the late 1970s and early 80s, grocery shopping was never really a problem. In just a matter of minutes, if my mom and I were so inclined, we could walk to and from Safeway—which, at the time, was just around the corner from us on Bowie Road. In fact, during the one year that we lived at 2 Woodland Court, it was literally just across the railroad tracks. For more extensive shopping, of course, my dad would drive us there (or more likely, to one of the bigger and/or cheaper stores in the area: Giant, Pantry Pride, or Basics). But on any given day, my mom might have decided to bake a cake or something; and needing only a few select items, she and I would take a quick walk over to Safeway.

Until this past weekend, I hadn’t been able to find a single photo of the Safeway that I so vividly remember from childhood—before it relocated to a new and larger space at Laurel Lakes in 1985 (where it remains today).

For me, the old Safeway was the real Safeway; and when it left, it was like losing an old friend. To this day, I occasionally have dreams in which I’m back in that store—perusing the Cragmont soda aisle and noting the vintage cash registers at the checkout counter, amongst orderly stacks of weekly magazines featuring the likes of Diff’rent Strokes and President Reagan on their covers.

So in the course of my research, when I turned the page in the April 21, 1966 issue of the Laurel News Leader and came to this photo—I smiled at an old friend.

There it was, just as I remembered it. But even newer, because it had just opened. From this angle, (taken from the adjacent shopping center, which had also just opened) you can even see that awesome roller track/conveyor belt thing, which transported your groceries from the checkout counter, outside, around a hairpin curve, and to your awaiting vehicle beneath that covered driveway. (This, of course, was the only downside to walking over to Safeway with my mom—I didn’t get to use that thing nearly as often as I would have liked, but I digress).

Admittedly, I suspected that I might actually find a photo of the store; in an earlier newspaper, I had come across this bold announcement, which included a stock illustration of a similar Safeway store (but without the aforementioned awesome roller track/conveyor belt thing).

Laurel Leader, January 27, 1966.

So, a question I’d often wondered about was finally answered. The Safeway on Bowie Road first opened its doors in January 1966. The adjacent shopping center, which included Market Tire, Arundel Furniture, and Chicken Roost, among others—also another story for another time—opened in April.

But the photo also raised an interesting question, because conspicuously absent in all this was my other beloved store—Dart Drug. I had always assumed that Dart Drug was the original tenant beside Safeway; that they had been built together. Evidently, that wasn’t the case at all.

As I continued through the 1966 newspapers, I spotted the following ad in an August issue—which references the mysterious “Super S” store noted in the photo caption above.

Safeway Super S? I’d never heard of or seen such a thing, but there it was, in the proverbial black and white.

It also immediately struck me as rather ironic that Safeway had actually occupied this entire, massive structure—yet would ultimately move to Laurel Lakes nearly 20 years later in need of more space. What happened there? What exactly was Super S, and how (and when) did it eventually become the Dart Drug that we all knew and loved?

The Super S story turns out to be a super-short one, actually. By April 1967—a mere eight months after its grand opening, ribbon-cutting ceremony with then-Mayor Merrill Harrison, the store was closed.

Laurel Leader, April 20, 1967

Super S, according to the fantastic vintage retail blog, Pleasant Family Shopping, was an early (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt by the supermarket to parlay its brand into an ancillary store; one which offered the types of non-food items you wouldn’t find in the Safeway proper: small appliances, sporting goods, toys, outdoor accessories, and more. Basically, like what Dart Drug would become. In retrospect, it’s a bold idea that, frankly, seems ahead of its time. Who knows.. with a little tweaking of the Super S business model here and there, Safeway could’ve very easily hit the jackpot. (Not that they haven’t been successful enough on their own, but again I digress).

It’s not yet clear if the old Super S building hosted any interim tenants, (my guess is no) but in February 1969, Dart Drug officially took up residence. It would remain there until the company went bankrupt nearly 20 years later.

Laurel Leader, February 6, 1969.


Here’s another view of the Safeway Shopping Center (as it came to be known) from across Route 1, in what was at that time the Food Fair parking lot. Food Fair, of course, would eventually become Frank’s Hardware, which in turn would eventually become Frank’s Nursery and Crafts—but that’s yet another story or two, as well.

Coincidentally, just a few miles west along Route 198, another Safeway opened in mid-February 1966. With a Peoples Drug at the opposite end of the Burtonsville Shopping Center, I guess the builders wisely saw no need for a Super S.

Last, but not least, I’d heard many a story about Laurel’s original Safeway—a location just off Main Street that, like its successor, was eventually deemed too small. That store was located on C Street, in the little building that would actually become City Hall and the Laurel Police Headquarters in 1972. Apparently, it continued to briefly do business even after the larger, new store opened on Bowie Road. In fact, according to this amusing snippet from September 1969, customers were still showing up even after it had closed.

Laurel Leader, September 25, 1969.

I can relate. They, too, must’ve felt like they’d lost an old friend.

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Safeway + Dart Drug, together again

Awhile back, I found this wonderful little Dart Drug truck on eBay—remarkably, still in its original packaging. For me, it was a perfect reminder of one of my all-time favorite stores while growing up in Laurel. In fact, I grew up just around the corner from it at Steward Manor; and made at least as many candy and magazine trips there as I did to the 7-Eleven directly across Laurel-Bowie Rd.

At that time, (this being the early-to-mid-1980s) Dart Drug was situated beside Safeway—before the latter relocated to the new Laurel Lakes shopping center in 1985. And when I was a kid, I could simply cross Lafayette Avenue and the railroad tracks and already be in the parking lot. So, yes—in the context of Dart Drug and Safeway, I literally grew up on the other side of the tracks. But I digress.

As cool as my new (old) toy was, it just didn’t feel complete without a Safeway item to balance it out. For me, the two will always be inseparable. To this day, I can’t think of Safeway without thinking of Dart Drug, and vice versa. I had considered a Safeway railroad car, to represent the fact that “my” Safeway will always be associated with the aforementioned railroad tracks.

But, lo and behold, I eventually tracked down a matching vintage toy truck. They seem to like each other. Once again, all is right with the world.

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Dart Drug: Sodas

The local weather forecasters had been predicting some snow for the DC metropolitan area this Presidents Day weekend, but alas, there was little if any precipitation. Instead, it’s bright and dry; and the air is clean, crisp, and refreshing—not unlike a Dart Drug ginger ale.

I’m not sure if it’s exactly “caramel colored” outside as well, but I digress.

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Dart Drug: Toys

Oddly, I find this little Dart Drug truck (from Dart Drug, of course) infinitely cooler today than I would have as a child. Now I’ll just have to try to resist opening the package…

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Dart Drug

Because it was one of the closest in proximity to my childhood home at Steward Manor Apartments—and a perennial favorite for candy, magazines, and pretty much anything else—let’s start with Dart Drug. Throughout the 80s, this particular store sat proudly beside the original Safeway (later relocated to Laurel Lakes) and served the neighborhood well. But by 1990, it was gone.

The company had been immensely popular in the DC metropolitan area, even spinning off Trak Auto and Crown Books—both of which would also eventually go under.

The building still sits there today, currently as a Sherwin-Williams paint center and a Pan-Am Grocery. It’s easy to forget just how big the store actually was.

I realized that I have a particular nostalgia for this Dart Drug. Most of the photos my family took while I was growing up—those small square Kodak 126 prints that are still in so many of my mom’s albums—were processed at this location. At least one roll of film was lost, now that I think of it. God, I’d love to know what was on it…

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