Tag Archives: Laurel Mall

Lost Laurel TV: Halloween

The second episode of Lost Laurel on Laurel TV is now on YouTube! It’s a special Halloween episode, which Laurel TV has been airing locally every day this week at 4PM on their network.

Some of the highlights:

  • We get to meet Rich Blankenship, who operates Laurel’s House of Horror in the old Cinema at Laurel Shopping Center, and learn the history behind the movie theater and its recently-replaced marquee.
  • We touch on some of the ghosts of buildings past, including Fyffe’s Service Center.
  • Learn about the allegedly haunted Bay ‘n Surf restaurant, and the bizarre murder that may have inspired the spooky stories.
  • A tragedy at the 1980 Laurel Centre Mall Halloween Costume Contest, in which yours truly may or may not have inadvertently scared beloved Congresswoman Gladys Noon Spellman to death.
  • Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard gives us the complete history of the notoriously creepy Laurel Sanitarium.
  • Was/is the Avondale Mill site haunted?
  • The spectre of the Ninth Street Bridge, and James Ladenburg‘s amazing miniature replica of it.

This was a fun episode to produce, and it’s wonderful to see some effects enhancements starting to come into play now that we’re getting the hang of things.

Now that there are two shows, one of the recurring themes you might pick up on throughout the series is the opening title graphic. For each episode, I’ve designed a “newspaper” front page in the style of the Laurel Leader from when I grew up in the 80s. It sets the stage for whatever the theme will be, and makes for a functional way of cataloging the episodes.

LOST-LAUREL-TV-INTRO-SCREEN-GRAPHIC title-graphic-main-street-6-final

Laurel Leader sample 1987

It’s one more way to have fun with this project, and as I get further into it, look for some even “older” front page newspaper treatments to emerge. 😉

We’re already planning next month’s episode, which will actually be a two-part series covering the building of Laurel Shopping Center—and there are lots of great stories and photos to be included in that one.

Special thanks to Tyler Baldwin for her hard work and patience, and for also fixing and re-uploading the earlier Main Street episode, which is available here:

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Santa’s First Visit to Laurel Centre

This being the first year that Santa Claus (or anyone else, for that matter) won’t be at Laurel Centre Mall, let’s take a look back at his very first visit in 1979.


(Laurel News Leader)


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Hobby House

Perhaps more than any store, restaurant, or other business in Laurel’s retail past, the one place that I’ve consistently heard the most about is a little shop that opened in (and along with) Laurel Plaza Shopping Center in October 1965. It was at least a decade before pinball and video game arcades became the rage; and by all accounts, Hobby House may have topped them all in terms of sheer awesomeness.

Throughout the summer of ’65, Hobby House advertised heavily in the Laurel News Leader—bold, exciting ads that showcased the store’s massive tabletop slot car racing tracks. As if that wasn’t enough to draw you in, they also carried a full line of all things hobby: coins, stamps, model airplanes, model ships, model trains, and more. It was essentially Laurel’s precursor to HobbyWorks—which, coincidentally, remains open in Laurel Shopping Center to this day.

While Hobby House was part of the new Laurel Plaza Shopping Center, it wasn’t actually a brand new store. It had previously been located at 342 Main Street—current location of the Laurel Board of Trade—for five years. The Main Street location, however, didn’t have the slot car racing tracks; and its new store was the first of its kind in the Laurel area. In fact, owner Bill Bromley proclaimed his three new championship-approved tabletop tracks “the finest facilities available in the state”.

The new store also boasted some impressive hours for its era, open daily from 10AM to 11PM, and noon to 11PM on Sundays. Customers were encouraged to bring their own slot cars to race, and there were plenty available to buy or rent for a nominal fee.

I’ve also heard nothing but great things about the store’s staff, including owner Bill Bromley, and his brother, Dick—who served as assistant manager. I was glad to unearth a couple of photos of these gentlemen from September 1965 issues of the News Leader as well:


And a May 1966 full page ad captured a number of Laurel Plaza store entrances, including Hobby House.

Unfortunately for me, Hobby House had apparently already closed by the time my family arrived at Steward Manor in the late 70s, and I never did get to experience it. (You don’t have to pity me too much—I did get to surf the wave of awesomeness that was Time-Out and Showbiz Pizza Place in their respective heydays).

But I wanted to share a wonderful Hobby House recollection from our good friend John Floyd II—a lifelong train buff who remembers a special day and the equally special customer service that went along with it:

Hobby House was wicked! Those large racing tracks were cool and it was always fun to see them in action, but electric model trains were my thing and Hobby House had plenty of them in the new “N scale” whose compact size appealed to me. Mr Dick Bromley was either owner or manager of HH and he was ever so accommodating. In 1968, the ill-fated Penn Central merger between Pennsylvania RR and New York Central System endeared me to that poorly-conceived, behemoth railway company, not to mention being amongst a thousand spectators who gathered at Odenton to see the solemn and dignified funeral train PC ran for RFK in June of ’68. So, for my 11th birthday that year, Mum took me to Hobby House to select a train set. Alas, there were none to be had in Penn Central colours, but Mr Bromley soon sorted that out by combining an individual locomotive, passenger cars, freight cars, and a caboose into a splendid custom Penn Central train set!

Eventually, he would be involved with the operation of Laurel Shopping Center and Laurel Centre Mall (Rich, I’ve got one of his business cards for you!) as well as the Chamber of Commerce. I believe one of Laurel’s Fourth of July Parade trophy awards is also named in Mr Bromley’s honour. When Hobby House closed (late ’70s or early ’80s?), it left a void not filled until Hobby Works (for general hobby interests) and Peach Creek Shops (for hard-core railway modellers) came along in the 1990s.

John did indeed have a business card for me, from Dick Bromley’s term as Promotion Director at Laurel Centre—complete with its original logo before the ill-advised April 1998 “Laurel Mall” rebrand!

I’m looking forward to digging further into the 1970s archives, to hopefully determine when Hobby House closed and for what reasons; and for more information about the Bromley brothers. But in the meantime, I’ll just have to imagine what it must’ve been like, racing slot cars against Laurel’s fast and furious. I have to believe that I’d be the only one who’d show up with a custom Bob’s Cab racer, though.

Get ready to pay the meter, kids. Next stop, Hobby House.

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Anticipating Laurel Malls, Past and Present

Photo: Brian Krista

By now, you’ve probably heard that there was a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long-awaited, still-cryptic Town Centre at Laurel project Tuesday morning. It took place along the southeast corner of the Laurel Mall site, near one of the many parking decks that had long sat closed—even before the mall itself closed.

Besides the ceremonial shoveling of dirt, (by a number of “official” folks who, quite probably, have never actually used a shovel—but I digress…) the large, orange and blue “Laurel Mall” sign at the corner of Route 1 and Cherry Lane—erected sometime after 1991, when Laurel Centre changed its name and continued its downward spiral—was also ceremonially lowered to the pavement; as if to emphasize that, this time, it’s really going to happen. After years of talk, rumors, deals, and nixed plans by a seemingly endless list of owners, developer Greenberg Gibbons seems finally poised to reinvent the space in a positive way.

The only–er, main problem seems to be the continued lack of high-end prospective tenants—something the developers have been maddeningly coy about since the project was first announced in March 2011. As of this writing, only Burlington Coat Factory, (the lone-surviving tenant of Laurel Mall) Harris Teeter, and Regal Cinemas are the proposed anchor stores. Proposed—meaning that even they’re not finalized yet.

A public announcement last week about the “invitation-only” groundbreaking event also didn’t exactly ingratiate the developers with, well, those of us who weren’t invited. In their defense, however, until those decrepit parking decks are actually brought down, I’m sure the prospect of having even one person get injured on the property is enough to give their legal department a nervous breakdown. I was told that as the project progresses, there will indeed be public events.

While I do believe that Town Centre at Laurel has the potential to be a very well-designed and positive change for the community, the contrast between the anticipation of this major development and its predecessors is enormous. Granted, the developers of Laurel Shopping Center and Laurel Centre Mall didn’t have the years of mismanagement and failed promises to deal with. But the communication they shared with the public from the very beginning played a key role in generating the interest and excitement that’s still palpable in the old newspapers that covered their grand openings. Not to mention, nearly all of the stores were leased before construction even began.

As we look back at its predecessors, let’s hope that the grand opening of Town Centre at Laurel—whenever it may be, and with whomever actually occupies it—turns out to be even half as exciting.



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A Neighbor’s In Need: Let’s Help!

Last Fall, I was researching the history of Steward Manor Apartments when I stumbled across a photo on eBay.

Photo: John Floyd II, 1974.

It was part of a set of ten original prints being offered, which documented various vehicles from the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and Laurel Rescue Squad in the 1970s. This particular image featured Laurel Rescue 19 (also known as “The Heavy”) leaving its quarters and turning onto Lafayette Ave.; and there in the distance was the familiar southwest corner of my old neighborhood—Steward Manor Apartments. Even the old red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia I remember walking past so many times en route to 7-Eleven, Dart Drug, or the mall was captured—parked right there where I remember it always sitting.

I eagerly bought the photos; and having noticed several other sets for sale, I messaged the seller, John Floyd II, who manages a wonderfully eclectic eBay store—Blackpool Bertie’s Railway Shop. I wondered if perhaps he had any other vintage photos of Steward Manor in his collection. We chatted back and forth, as I explained the premise of my research. I learned that John was a former fireman, and over the years (both before and after his tenures with volunteer fire companies in Laurel and New Jersey) he had diligently photographed firefighting apparatus, training exercises, and countless fires and accident scenes. Aside from this one photo, he didn’t recall having any others of Steward Manor; because as he explained, the old complex was virtually fireproof. He promised to take a look through his archives, though, and would let me know if he came across anything.

In the meantime, I began to take note of some of the other photos he was selling—photos that in a roundabout way, captured images of the Laurel, MD I used to know. Behind the firetrucks were long-gone storefronts from Laurel Shopping Center… the old Fair Lanes bowling alley sign… and a number of stunning photos from the very first Main Street Festival in 1981. I eagerly bought these, as well; and in effect, they turned out to be the inspiration for starting Lost Laurel. You’ve undoubtedly seen these photos throughout the blog and Facebook page.

Over the past several months, John has not only contributed more invaluable photos and historic information, he has become a good friend.

He’s also a bit of living Laurel history, himself. As a young lad, (as he might say in his subtle British accent) he and his mother came to America in 1957, settling in Laurel in 1964. Not long thereafter, his mom met and wed Mr. Harry Fyffe, co-owner (with his brother Walter) of the legendary Fyffe’s Service Center that stood at Montgomery and 10th Streets for so many years. By his early teens, John was helping out behind the bar, eagerly pulling pints for the regulars!

Still living in Laurel, (he’s lived in the same modest home since childhood—going on 50 years) he’s an active civic booster for the community, and for the nearby Laurel Police Department in particular. He’s also a fine horn player, as well. That was him you may have seen carrying the big antique silver Sousaphone, marching along with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in this year’s Main Street Festival parade!

John has already shared with me a wealth of knowledge and photos of vintage Laurel—the likes of which I could not possibly have come across on my own. In fact, I’ve merely scratched the surface in terms of curating his vast contributions for Lost Laurel. Wait until you get a load of some of the treasures he’s shared from the 1960s and earlier—who knew Pal Jack’s was once a Bendix and Philco radio shop?!

Main Street in the 1940s… (Photo courtesy John Floyd II, from the collection of Harry Fyffe)

…and the same spot in 2007. (Photo: John Floyd II)

I can say with certainty that without John’s help, there wouldn’t be a Lost Laurel.

Much has happened in just the eight months since I’ve started this project. I’ve been interviewed by the Laurel Leader, and I’ve seen the Lost Laurel Facebook page grow to over 1200 fans. I’ve watched the blog soar to over 24,000 views. That was the good news. The bad news is that I’ve also seen more of the old Laurel fall—literally, in the case of the recent demolition of the blue American National Bank building. Also closing for good were my beloved Laurel Art Center, and even the Laurel Mall—something I never dreamed would’ve occurred in my lifetime, having grown up in its heyday.

Coincidentally, who walked over to the mall to photograph and share with Lost Laurel the very first photos of the “permanently closed for business” signs on the locked doors? John Floyd did.

Photos: John Floyd II

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news looming. This one isn’t about a longtime business closing, or an iconic building being razed. This one affects John personally; and for him, it could certainly be the toughest loss of all. He’s at risk of losing his home.

After missing a property tax deadline, I’ve learned that John’s home was actually SOLD at the county’s annual Tax Auction in May. He now has a very small redemption window in which to pay off the tax penalty, otherwise he’ll lose everything.

John would never ask for any kind of charity himself, so I’m going to pitch in and try to help. In fact, I’ve already gotten an earful from him for simply suggesting this little benefit idea. But I have to believe that at least a few of the folks who follow Lost Laurel will sympathize, and find it in their hearts to contribute whatever they can. And this is just too important to not at least try.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that John has been in a very tight financial spot for quite some time now. He has been without a car for nearly a decade, which not only limits his general mobility, but effectively ended his regular occupation as a musician with various orchestras and dance bands, jazz and ragtime bands, brass bands, and other vintage-style musical ensembles. It was a career he enjoyed for 26 years, working several thousand gigs overall. But without transportation, that work dried up years ago. Likewise, he’s been unable to sell his wares at firemen’s conventions and trade shows—something else that once regularly supplemented his pay.
His eBay sales have become his sole means of income, making him entirely dependent upon the computer for all of his meager earnings.

And unfortunately, his sales have dropped dramatically (by over 60%) in the current recession. An emergency veterinary bill for one of his many cats set him back a hefty sum earlier this year, and that only added to the larger problem—trying to meet the overdue property tax bill to the tune of nearly $3,300. And if it’s not paid by June 30th, the amount will increase to over $7,000 when Prince George’s County adds the 2012 tax bill (along with interest and penalties, legal and court costs, as well as “advertising costs” for the Tax Auction that has put his home at risk). Finally, if the full amount isn’t paid by July 31st, his redemption window slams shut and the new property owners will be free to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings. It’s a process that’s every bit as harsh as it sounds.

There’s some irony here, too. As a homeowner, John isn’t eligible for any kind of public assistance—not that he’d willingly accept it. If he were to be evicted, however, he’d likely be free to receive any number of benefits. He doesn’t want those handouts; he simply wants to pay off his debts and remain in the only home he’s known for the past 46 years. I’m hoping we can help him do that.

Unfortunately, P.G. County isn’t flexible in the least. Nor are they interested in John’s or anyone else’s problems. There’s no negotiating with them on the amounts or the due dates. It’s literally all or nothing.

Knowing that most of us are so routinely asked to contribute to various charities—we donate to our kids’ fundraisers; we contribute to relay races for cancer research; we send money to groups who build homes for homeless families in foreign countries—I realize that the bombardment of solicitations can be draining; which is why I very rarely ask for such favors. But I’m going to ask an important favor now—on behalf of a good friend in a time of need who has done so much for Lost Laurel.

If you would, kindly donate whatever you can to John Floyd. His email address is royalbluelimited@aol.com, and it is set up to receive PayPal payments. It could be a little or a lot—every dollar adds up. Most importantly, you will know that your contribution isn’t going to some anonymous organization. It’s going directly toward helping a fellow Laurelite in need—and a genuinely good bloke, as John would say. It’ll literally help him save his home.

To help kickstart this benefit, I’m also going to be offering a few special Lost Laurel incentive prizes to those who donate the most.
• All
contributions of $25 and over will receive a full-size, double-sided reproduction of a classic Jack Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub carryout menu from 1981.
• The first two contributions of $50 or more will receive an original 24″ x 36″ lushly illustrated poster map of Laurel from 1993.
• The first contribution of $100 or more will receive a limited edition Marian Quinn print of the iconic Cook’s Hardware building, matted and framed by the Laurel Art Center.
• And the first contribution of $250 or more will receive a framed 23″ x 30″ vintage 1990s illustration of Main Street businesses—which hung hidden for years in the Laurel Art Center.

These are but a few things that I can offer for what I would consider substantial donations, but I would strongly encourage everyone who reads this to consider sending any amount they can, no matter how small. It truly will help. Imagine if each one of our 1200+ Lost Laurel Facebook friends sent just a dollar or two—John’s crisis could be averted.

There are other ways that you can help, as well. Please visit John’s eBay shop (http://stores.ebay.com/blackpoolbertiesrailwayshop) and buy his stuff! If it’s not your proverbial cup of tea, perhaps you know someone who is a railroad buff, a firefighting enthusiast, and/or a brass band, vintage jazz, and big band music connoisseur—trust me, you’ll find something they’ll appreciate! It goes without saying that John’s eBay record is a spotless one—100% with over 4,350 positive feedbacks. He takes great pride and care in shipping his items quickly and securely, too, as I can attest.

Conversely, perhaps you have some items that you could donate to John’s store that HE may sell. That would also be a major help. Please message me, or feel free to contact John directly (royalbluelimited@aol.com) to make arrangements. Those who donate the amounts listed above can also request that I give their award items to John instead, so that he may sell them.

We’ve all come to accept that Laurel is an ever-changing landscape, and a far cry from the town we once knew. Businesses and residents alike have come and gone—some of their own accord, and others due to various hardships. This, however, is a uniquely tragic situation that I believe we can actually help prevent. Please join me and pitch in what you can. Let’s make sure Laurel doesn’t lose one of its truest citizens.

John Floyd II outside the Laurel Art Center in April, where he also went to photograph the closing of another Laurel icon.

Please donate via PayPal directly to royalbluelimited@aol.com

Many thanks!!

~ ®

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Goodbye, Laurel Mall

Laurel Centre Mall, October 11, 1979 ~ May 1, 2012.

Photos: John Floyd II

Thanks to long-time Laurel resident John Floyd II for trekking over and confirming this week’s final closure. To my knowledge, there weren’t any press releases or announcements; just a handful of bright green flyers taped to the doors announced the final closure of the long-suffering Laurel Mall.

Much more to come on the mall’s closing soon, as well as some early articles and photos trumpeting its grand opening back in 1979—when it got substantially more respect than a few bright green flyers.

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It being the end of February, I trust everyone has finally taken down their Woolworth/Woolco Christmas ornaments, right?

There was a time—March, 1982, to be exact—when it seemed like Woolworth and Woolco were poised to dominate the Laurel retail market, having stores practically book-ending the parking lot of Laurel Shopping Center. Woolco, founded 20 years earlier by the F.W. Woolworth Company, was a full-line discount department store, which offered considerably more than its smaller, more traditional five-and-dime counterpart. Laurel’s Woolco opened in the former Hecht Co. building on March 31, 1982, taking over the empty retail space after Hecht’s moved inside the new Laurel Centre Mall the previous year.

While Woolco was considerably bigger and more modern, its marketing team was careful to point out that Woolworth remained its parent company. Together, Woolworth/Woolco offered an extensive line of pretty much everything—from the aforementioned Christmas decorations to automotive supplies.

And speaking of autos, they also created their own brand of Matchbox/Hot Wheels-type toy cars: “Peelers”.

But alas, the Woolworth/Woolco dynasty wasn’t to be. In fact, the Woolco signage we see being installed in that Laurel Leader article above had barely settled—literally—when F.W. Woolworth announced that it would be closing all 336 stores in the United States.

That announcement came in September of the same year—not even a full six months after Laurel’s store saw its grand opening.

What’s remarkable, obviously, is that the store even opened up in the first place. In fiscal 1981, the parent company (Woolworth) earned $82 million in sales. Without Woolco, it was claimed, its earnings would have been $147 million. “We believe that the figures indicate that Woolworth will be a more profitable company once freed from the burden of Woolco’s disappointing performance,” said Chairman Edward F. Gibbons. Yet, only six months earlier, they were opening a brand new store in Laurel—to optimistic city planners and retail chiefs who clearly expected the store to last a lot longer than six months. In hindsight, they never should’ve opened it on March 31st. They should’ve waited and opened it on April Fools Day.

Some thirty years later, today’s situation with the old Laurel Mall and its countless financial/developmental mishaps shouldn’t seem so surprising. And this time it can’t be blamed on Woolco.

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Ghosts of Laurel Mall

Recently, friend and fellow Laurel history buff John Floyd II noticed something while walking from the Laurel Mall exterior to Laurel Shopping Center… something that’s been there for years, but had never caught his eye until now. On the Rt. 1 side of the complex, between the mall’s main entrance and the former J.C. Penney, are service doors to other lower-level shops in the mall—shops that have been closed for years. In stenciled letters (or remnants thereof), are the names of at least two of these former tenants: Matthew’s Hallmark and Friendly’s Restaurant.

Photos by and courtesy of John Floyd II
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Last Call: Laurel Mall

For the past several years, I’d been hearing about how Laurel Mall had gone drastically downhill. Literally—as parts of the upper level parking decks had famously collapsed.

Admittedly, I hadn’t visited the mall in probably more than a decade, since I began residing in Northern Virginia. But even friends who still live in Laurel would tell me not to waste my time there, as virtually everything we once knew had long-since vanished. Truth be told, there wasn’t much other than Time-Out that I missed significantly. But until I pressed for further information, I didn’t really comprehend just how far gone Laurel Mall actually was.

I read various blog articles about the mall’s current condition; and by “current condition”, I mean the steady and shocking exodus of nearly all retailers that began as long ago as 2001. I learned about multiple failed renovation plans, multiple ownership bankruptcies, and other sordid details. I heard stories about crime and violence at the mall. Even the mall’s own website shut down at some point. Yet, all the while, the structure remained—and remained open. Occasionally driving past on Route 1, Cherry Lane, or through Laurel Shopping Center, you could see the occasional shopper emerging from Burlington Coat Factory; or a car entering the lower level parking area. Signs of retail life, albeit faint.

This past summer, I decided to see just how bad it was for myself. In late July 2011, I drove to Laurel Mall—or what I used to know as Laurel Centre. I would have loved to walk through the skyway between the Shopping Center and (what used to be) J.C. Penney, but I knew that was also long-gone. Driving between the buildings, you can see where it once was.

The upper-level parking areas had all been blocked off.

I parked in the east side lower-level garage, and entered the mall next to what I recall being a Fujifilm 1-hour photo place in the early 1990s. Now, of course, it’s just an empty, shuttered space—much like the rest of the mall’s interior. That day, I found myself eerily alone in what was essentially a vacant Laurel Mall; literally a shell of the vibrant, bustling little shopping center I fondly remember from my youth.

I had been here in 1979, when the mall first opened. The following year, I won a Halloween costume contest right in the center of the mall. (In fact, I was being introduced the very moment that guest judge Congresswoman Gladys Noon Spellman suffered a heart attack and slipped into an 8-year coma just a few feet away).

Now, even in spite of the sealed doors, the darkened windows, and the emptiness, the mall still maintained a familiarity. Scenes such as this from an October 1979 issue of the Baltimore Sun were still palpable.

I walked through the mall that day by myself, trying to recall which empty spaces once held stores that I’d frequented. Somewhere downstairs was Spencers and Kay-Bee Toys; somewhere upstairs was Waldenbooks. Aside from Payless Shoe Source (the only remaining original tenant, to my knowledge), there were only a few generic shops open for business; places that, sadly, would probably be better suited selling their wares on eBay than paying rent at a place like this. Most of these were on the lower level. Amazingly, the entire north upper level (the former J.C. Penney side) was closed completely.

I took a number of photos that day, not knowing if it would be the last time I’d ever see Laurel Mall or not.

A few months went by, and I read that yet another plan to replace the mall had apparently been approved, this time with demolition permits already secured. According to the Mayor’s office, demolition (at least to the parking garages) was actually going to begin by the end of the year, but was delayed until after the holidays per Mayor Craig Moe’s request. According to the official release, within 45 days, (meaning by February 2012, supposedly) Greenberg Gibbons plans to submit to the City its full demolition plans to the Mall; and also will update its plans for the “Laurel Town Center” development project. So, yes—despite earlier talk of “Laurel Commons”, the name of the new mall appears to be Laurel Town Center. Or might I suggest “Centre”, in a nod to the original name. At any rate, they don’t seem to mind the fact that nearly anyone who knows Laurel will forever associate the name “Town Center” with the existing strip mall at the corner of Rt. 197 and Contee Rd., but I digress.

The new Laurel Town Center as proposed. Photo: Martin Architectural Group

The new Laurel Town Center as proposed. Photo: Martin Architectural Group

The new Laurel Town Center as proposed. Photo: Martin Architectural Group

As the end of the year approached, I had an idea. I wanted to visit the empty mall at least one more time—this time with old friends and other like-minded Laurel nostalgia buffs. More than a few people had mentioned being wary of walking through the mall alone, which was part of the reason they hadn’t gone in years. (The other part being the fact that there were no longer any actual stores in the mall). So in December, I posted an event invitation on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, announcing the chance to join a small group of curious ex-mall rats, as we walked through the vacant mall to take photos and reminisce. To make it “official”, I designed a flyer:

At the same time, I’d been trying to contact mall management—to both inquire about the vague demolition schedule and to let them know about the plan to tour and photograph the property before it’s gone for good. I’ve also been curious to find any early mall directories, advertisements, etc., which one would assume any mall management would have archived somewhere. (If you happen to have any, please let me know!)

Unfortunately, the phones weren’t being answered at the main information number. No voicemail, no nothing. A second number I tracked down (for the non-existent “Laurel Commons”, interestingly enough) yielded a voicemail message from a barely intelligible Indian woman, thanking the caller for phoning Laurel Commons (whatever that is) before degenerating into an incomprehensible listing of other numbers. Again, there was no option to leave a message of my own.

I did the next best thing—I called two stores that I knew were still open—Burlington Coat Factory and Payless Shoe Source—to ask if they knew when demolition would start. The clerk at Burlington did not, and ironically suggested that I call mall management. The clerk at Payless also wasn’t aware of the pending schedule, but was able to answer my main question about whether or not the mall would be open and “walkable” on December 31st. She believed that it would be.

So on New Years Eve, I picked up two of my oldest friends in Laurel—the twins, Rodney and Ronald Pressley—and we did something we hadn’t done in years. We drove to the mall.

Within minutes of parking in the lower level garage area, we heard a familiar roar. Thankfully, it wasn’t the upper level collapsing; it was another old friend arriving. Jimmy Smith, driving a custom pickup truck that holds the engine from his old Chevy Camaro—the car in which he used to cruise this very parking lot in the 1980s.

Jimmy also came dressed for the occasion, literally. His black leather motorcycle jacket was purchased at Wilson’s Leather—here in the mall—back in the 80s. He also brought his old mall rat jean jacket, a relic from his high school days.

You may have noticed something in that photo of Jimmy’s Steelers truck—a mall security vehicle in the distance. As you’re probably guessing, it was a harbinger of things to come.

Jimmy, the twins, and I entered the mall together—easily the first time we’d done so in nearly 25 years. At least one of the escalators still worked, and after riding it the way some of us occasionally used to, the realization of what the mall had become slowly began to settle in.

We’d been in the mall for only a matter of minutes, when a lone security guard—sitting in the empty Food Court—politely summoned our small group. Having noticed my camera, he informed us that he’d gotten a call from mall management (the apparently ubiquitous yet unreachable mall management). They were concerned about reports of “people taking photos in the mall”. I introduced myself and explained our reason for visiting and taking the photos, and the guard was sympathetic. He seemed genuinely impressed that we cared enough about the deserted mall to organize a group tour, if you will, and explained that management was mainly concerned about us taking any “structural photos”. He clarified that it would be okay to take a photo of someone—but no photos specifically of the mall structure itself. We both laughed at the irony of this, given that the mall structure was slated for demolition any day now.

While we chatted, I could hear his walkie-talkie reporting a number of other people taking pictures in the mall. It had begun.

Other old friends began filtering in: Kevin Buter, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, arrived sporting a Galaga t-shirt—a tribute to the countless video games we’d played at Time-Out, just around the corner.

Soon, a number of others gathered between the old Time-Out and Hair Cuttery. Some I recognized, others I had never met. But they’d all heard about the “Last Call: Laurel Mall” event, from a variety of sources, and were compelled to visit. Memories were shared about old jobs in the mall, and pinpointing the location of certain long-lost stores proved easier said than done. But just milling about the area, nearly everyone could recall specific sensory details from decades ago—the smell of peanuts roasting at The Peanut Shack, and cookies baking at The Great Cookie; the sounds of Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and countless quarters being changed by Time-Out manager Jeff Perlin.

All said, approximately 40–50 people showed up for the impromptu event, reminiscing and somewhat nervously noting the fact that this many people probably hadn’t assembled in the mall in years—a concern about whether or not the upper level would even support us all. Thankfully, it did.

In the hour or so we spent walking through the mall, the group I was with (most people broke off into smaller groups to tour at their own pace) was approached by security guards two more times. Each time, the concern was again voiced about people photographing the structural aspects of the mall. It was also suggested, albeit not very strongly, that we leave. Again, I asked about speaking to the mysterious mall management personally—as I’d tried to do from the start. Since they weren’t available (still), I explained that I’d do my best to remind the others not to specifically photograph anything that could be construed as “structural detail”. The understanding was that as long as a person was in the photo, we could take it.

There were a couple of “structural details” that I felt compelled to photograph, one way or another. These were remnants of the original Laurel Centre Mall that I once knew—remnants that existed before the mall’s inexplicable makeover in 1991 (when the mall was only 12 years old) that saw the complete removal of the beautiful, polished brown tile floors, wooden handrails, and wooden storefront frames in favor of white formica flooring and blue-painted metal rails. Hiding beside the old J.C. Penney was one of the original benches, and just outside the closed gate of the former Spencer’s Gifts was a row of the original brown floor tiles.

It was also suggested by security that we “buy something” at the mall during our visit. But the inherent problem with the current mall is that there isn’t anything really worth buying there. So some of us did the next best thing—we bought gumballs (which may very well have been from the 1990s) and rode the kiddie rides.

The kiddie rides, coincidentally, were once featured on Laurel Mall’s now defunct website—as an attraction to lure potential shoppers. Is it any real wonder why the mall is about to be torn down?

We walked the length of the mall a couple of times, pausing to reflect at nearly every empty storefront. You’d be amazed at just how many memories can come flooding back in a place like this, especially when you’re surrounded by old friends. I think the most common sentiment, aside from the general sadness of the mall’s fate, was surprise at just how well-kept the place actually is—despite it’s emptiness. Many were expecting a truly derelict mall, full of broken glass and crumbling walls, and that really wasn’t the case. In fact, someone remarked that it almost felt freshly painted. When I’d visited over the summer, the floor had apparently just been waxed as well. Why, I have no idea.

I always enjoyed this mall as a kid and as a teenager. And strangely enough, I enjoyed revisiting it in its final days, both alone and with just a few of the many visitors for whom it will always be a special place. If this really is the end of Laurel Mall as we knew it, hopefully its next life will be one that successfully revitalizes the area that we once called home.

For more photos, check out the full set from Last Call: Laurel Mall on Flickr.

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