Tag Archives: Keller’s

Happy 80th, Fred Knapp!

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Admittedly, a blog update here is long overdue… (the Lost Laurel Facebook page has been getting all the action lately).

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note this very special day on both pages. Fred Knapp is celebrating his 80th birthday today! According to his step-daughter, Debbie, Mr. Knapp is doing well and living in Elkridge.

While I’ve yet to get over the fact that we’ll never see another Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency, the very thought of the jovial Fred Knapp enjoying his well-deserved retirement brings a smile to my face.

Happy birthday to a man who will always represent everything that was wonderful about Main Street.

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Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency

Watercolor by Cathy Emery

Every so often, you come across a picture—or in this case, a painting—that just instantly transports you back. And, more often than not, it’s a picture of something simple; something that was once a mundane part of your everyday life… which you naively assumed would be there forever.

Such was the case with Cathy Emery’s painting of Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency. If you’d told me 30 years ago—when I was a kid, frequently stopping in Keller’s/Knapp’s for magazines, Chiclets fruit gum, Hostess pies, and the like—that there would one day be a painting of the establishment, (let alone that I would actually want it) I never would’ve believed you. But after the store that had graced (perhaps “graced” isn’t quite the word for it) the corner of Main and B Streets since the late 1940s had finally closed down and given way to the new Revere Bank building, that painting hits home.

It’s exactly as I remember it—the view from across the street, where you could already smell the mingling aroma of produce and newspapers. It may not sound like it, but it was a good smell.

A photo from the same angle appeared in the 1987 Citizens National Bank complimentary calendar (Photo: Susan L. Cave)

As wonderful as it was to see that familiar exterior again after all these years, it didn’t compare to the joy of getting to look inside.

On a recent visit to the Laurel Library, there in the March 14, 1985 issue of the Laurel Leader—appropriately headlining the Our Town section of the paper—was the smiling, laughing face of one Fred Knapp himself. And there he was, standing at his familiar post behind the cluttered counter of Knapp’s.

Fred Knapp. Laurel Leader Staff Photo by Tenney Mason, March 14, 1985

Venerable Leader writer Tony Glaros painted a warm portrait of Mr. Knapp and his memorable old store, and reading it now brings a smile and laugh as big as the one Mr. Knapp is shown enjoying in that photo. The article mentions his penchant for “dazzling his customers”:

“I know what they want before they get here, ” says Fred. “I look out the window and play this game. If I see a guy coming and I know what kind of cigarettes he gets or whatever, I have them ready when he gets here.”

This trait is reiterated later in the article in even more detail:

Fred already knows who smokes what brand, eats what candy and reads what newspaper. He greets them, firing off terms of affection in staccato fashion. “Hey, maestro!” “What else, love?” “Good morning, doctor.” “Thank you, darlin’. Have a good day and be careful out there.”

That’s the part that stuck with me the most. I can vividly recall being referred to as both “Maestro” and “Doctor” by Mr. Knapp. I remember thinking that was particularly cool, given that I was barely ten years old at the time.

The article included some interesting historical data, too. According to this, the newsstand had been operating out of the same location since June 21, 1947*, when Charlie Keller (Fred’s Knapp’s late father-in-law) first opened it. Fred worked for Mr. Keller “on and off” for thirty years, commuting by bus during the day to his job as an Army engineer at Fort Belvoir, VA, and helping Keller out at night. Mr. Keller died in 1978, and Fred took over the business—where it would remain a family affair until the end.

Fred, who was 52 years old at the time of the article, conceded that the hours were the toughest part of the job. “I come in at six o’clock in the morning, five in the summertime so I can catch the fishermen who want worms and beer and sodas and ice and all the junk like that.” It was a routine that he adhered to an astounding 13 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. His only respite, he said, were Sundays—when he’d sleep in until 10:30 before heading back to the store.

I also happened upon a Laurel Leader supplement from 1982, which featured an even wider view of the newsstand’s interior—with Mr. Knapp diligently restocking his ample periodical section:

And in a truly unique view, Tom Jarrell shared this shot from atop Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre in October 1988:

Photo: Tom Jarrell

Earlier this week, I posted the photo of Fred Knapp on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, where it yielded a flood of fond memories. But the best news of all came from Debbie Welch-Foulks, who is Mr. Knapp’s stepdaughter. She tells us that he is living in Elkridge, MD these days, and doing well! She added:

I just got him on the phone and was reading all the posts to him—he was laughing up a storm. He misses everyone….

Laurel misses you, too, Mr. Knapp. Very much so.

Postscript:
*Various ads cited “Since 1948”, but the Laurel Leader article is the only reference I’ve found that mentions an actual starting date of June 21, 1947.

A desolate view in 2007. (Photo: spork232, panoramio.com)
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Laurel Art Center

Yesterday, I read a particularly distressing story on LaurelLeader.com. One of my all-time favorite places—and one of the few remaining Laurel stores that had been a constant while I was growing up—and then some—is apparently closing after 35 years.

In fact, the Laurel Art Center at 322 Main Street has already closed its doors, (temporarily, let’s hope) as the Emery family decides its fate. But let’s face it—it doesn’t sound good.

Admittedly, before last year, it had been awhile since I’d visited the Laurel Art Center. But like an old friend many miles away, it felt good just to know it was still there. And it was an old friend, indeed. An old friend that remained the same throughout the passing decades.

It was an extraordinarily special place for me, particularly as a youngster. I was one of those kids you hear about who literally started drawing from the moment he first held a pencil. I drew everything, and I drew it on everything—as this early depiction of an epic football battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers can attest. I drew it on the back of one of my mom’s paper placemats sometime around 1979. You’ll notice that I hadn’t quite grasped the rules of football at the time; although I still can see the benefit to marking the field with “60” and “70”-yard lines and so forth. But I digress.

As a young artist, I was fascinated with the tools of the trade: the pencils and felt pens, and the marks they made on paper. And the paper itself, for that matter. Fortunately, I was blessed with parents who recognized and nurtured my talent at a very early age. My mom, on routine trips to the likes of Woolworth’s or Zayre, would invariably come home with a small gift for me—a sketch pad, and/or a little set of watercolor paints. I’ll never forget the thrill of trying out new art supplies, regardless of what they were or where they came from.

As I progressed, I learned that there was an entire world of real art supplies out there—far beyond my standard number 2 pencils, generic felt tip pens, and little sets of watercolors. There were actual drawing pencils, with a range of textures and contrast; there were papers that were actually designed to accommodate watercolors—unlike my mom’s standard white typewriter paper (or her paper placemats). This world first presented itself to me in the form of the Laurel Art Center.

To me, the phrase, “like a kid in a candy store” has never been so apt as when I visited this place. And it has always felt that way, whether I was 10 years old, twenty-something, or today, as I’m closing in on 40. From the weathered, wooden outdoor facade to the cavernous aisles filled with every art supply imaginable, the Laurel Art Center never changed. The smell of graphite pencils, wooden frames, and the occasional hint of turpentine is just as apparent today as it was when I first experienced it.

Photo: laurel.patch.com

I came across this terrific set on Flickr from member clgmaclean, which captures the essence of the Laurel Art Center and its myriad inventory. Somewhere on those countless cardboard displays and particleboard shelves, I’m sure my own discreet doodles still exist—as I tested many a pen before buying it.

While the store itself hasn’t changed all these years, its purpose has evolved for me during those three distinct periods I alluded to: childhood, college, and adulthood.

As a kid, it was simply an artistic wonderland; a place to experiment and learn with tools that just weren’t available at the local five and dime.

When I enrolled at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in the Fall of 1993, it was the first and only place I went to purchase my required supplies—an epic supply list that I’m told was photocopied and saved by staffmembers at the store for future use!

Long after graduating and becoming a graphic designer, it was this project—Lost Laurel—that brought me back to the store once again. Not for art supplies, ironically, but for the fantastic prints by local artists Marian Quinn and Cathy Emery—prints that document countless Laurel buildings and landmarks that are long gone. It was the first resource I thought of when I started Lost Laurel. And funny enough, I remembered seeing some of them in the store all those years ago… At the time, however, it didn’t dawn on me just how prescient they were. Why would anyone want a print of Keller’s News Stand, or Petrucci’s Dinner Theater, or Pal Jack’s Pizza, I remember thinking—they’re right here next to the Art Center. Yeah, 30 years ago they were. Now they’re gone, like so many other places that were uniquely Laurel.

Keller's/Knapp's, watercolor print by Cathy Emery

I’d made several trips to the the Laurel Art Center in recent months, picking up a number of these historical prints for my collection, which I’ve been sharing primarily on the Lost Laurel Facebook page.

Each time I browsed the selections, one print in particular caught my eye. And now, even while recognizing how prescient it was, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. It was a Marian Quinn pen and ink drawing of the Laurel Art Center itself. While I wanted it—and certainly wished I’d just gone ahead and grabbed it while I had the chance—I felt as though I might be jinxing my old friend. I was there to get artwork of places past, not places that I held hope would continue to persevere.

According to the article in the Leader, the Laurel Art Center’s closing may not be permanent. At least, not yet. There seems to be a chance that the store will open on a temporary schedule (I suggest checking their Facebook pages often for updates—here and here) until the ownership issue can be resolved. And to that point, I want to wish Mr. Leo Emery—the wonderful man who founded the store all those years ago, and who has remained such an integral part of it ever since—and his entire family the best of luck. That goes for everyone who has ever worked at the store, as well. I also want to give them all a belated, but heartfelt thank you for all that they’ve done—for as long as I can remember. If there hadn’t been a Laurel Art Center, who knows what I might be doing today. I can’t imagine that I would’ve maintained such a strong interest in art had it not been for them. I would’ve eventually gotten bored, just doodling on my mom’s paper placemats, and moved on to something else. Instead, I found inspiration in that store like nowhere else.

I’ll end this post with another look at the past, as well as a glimpse at the near future. It can be seen in this photo—one of my favorites from John Floyd II:

The very first Main Street Festival, 1981. (Photo: John Floyd II)

Each of the establishments from the old Marian Quinn prints I mentioned can be seen in this view from 1981, looking west on Main Street from its intersection with Washington Blvd. There’s Pal Jack’s Pizza on the left, just beside Petrucci’s. Further up, just past the Equitable Trust bank is the Laurel Art Center itself. Across the street, you can see the familiar Pepsi sign hanging from what was, at that time, Keller’s News Stand. This was no ordinary day, of course; people didn’t just walk in the middle of Main Street routinely in 1981. This was the Main Street Festival—the very first Main Street Festival, in fact. I find it entirely fitting that, in the middle of this vibrant, promising snapshot of a community embracing itself—there is the Laurel Art Center.

It’s also fitting that the city of Laurel recently designated a downtown arts district in this very section of town, with an eye to attracting new arts-based businesses and legitimizing the growing arts focus of the area. How terribly ironic it would be if the Laurel Art Center, after 35 years, is no longer around to be at the center of this great new community movement as well.

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Keller’s / Knapp’s No More

I just came across this great shot found at http://www.panoramio.com/photo/1683203, showing a deserted stretch of Main Street in 2007—including a sadly vacant and soon-to-be razed Keller’s/Knapp’s News Stand.

The emptiness in the photo matches that felt by so many who frequented the old establishment through the years; whether it was to buy racing forms, out-of-town newspapers, the peaches, watermelons, etc. that filled the porch, or just to chat with the colorful regulars. The corner at 323 Main Street just hasn’t been the same since.

Photo: spork232 (panoramio.com)

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