Tag Archives: Laurel

Laurel Centre: Merry Go Round… and Carousel

When you ask folks who grew up in the 1980s about “Merry Go Round“, they’ll undoubtedly remember the store… and its trendy fashions that they’d probably just as soon forget. Do the brands “I.O.U.” and “Skidz” ring any bells?

For those who grew up in Laurel at that time, our Merry Go Round was located on the lower level of Laurel Centre Mall, not far from the Hecht’s entrance. And coincidentally, just a few short yards away was another merry go round of sorts—the Carousel shops, which were literally located on a revolving platform in the center of the mall. These seven small boutiques were surrounded by a moat, no less—into which everyone in Laurel likely threw at least one penny at some point. (Perhaps wishing for a new red leather jacket from Merry Go Round, or something).

It wasn’t obvious, but the Carousel did actually rotate. According to this press photo which ran in the October 28, 1979 issue of the Baltimore Sun, the platform did a complete turn every 50 minutes. It did, at least, until maintenance costs proved to be too prohibitive, and then it just sat still. For that reason, many people probably never realized that it ever rotated at all.

And as for Merry Go Round, the store, I hope you didn’t think I’d miss this opportunity to showcase some of its many wares. Enjoy. Or cringe, more likely.

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PACE Membership Warehouse

It’s funny how these things come together sometimes. No matter how hard you try to remember everything, or how much research you do, you’re bound to completely forget a few places. And sometimes, the biggest, most unlikely-to-ever-be-forgotten stores are the ones most easily overlooked. Such was the case with PACE Membership Warehouse.

At least I wasn’t the only one. None of the 700+ folks on our Facebook page had mentioned it thus far, either.

So last night, while glancing at my WordPress dashboard, I noticed something new in the search engine terms module. Typically, the phrases I’ll see are things like “laurel movie theater”, “irish pub laurel maryland”, and “laurel mall closing”. These are terms that someone has entered into a search engine (Google, etc.), which subsequently led them to this blog.

But last night’s search engine terms—three separate tries—were more specific:

a warehouse off route 197 in laurel, md that sold food out of a warehouse in the late 80s and early 90s not shoppers
name of old store in laurel, md that sold food in late 80s like a warehouse not shoppers
list of food warehouses in laurel, md in late 80s and early 90s not shoppers

As you can tell, they were pretty adamant that it wasn’t Shoppers Food Warehouse. It took a moment to register what this place could possibly be, but then it hit me. PACE.

It had to be PACE Membership Warehouse, the innovative wholesale giant that opened in Laurel in 1985. At the time, it was a whole new concept: a massive, spartan warehouse filled with bulk buys for membership-based customers. According to reports, there were only 8 other companies like it in the entire country, and none in the Baltimore-Washington region.

According to Wikipedia, PACE was founded in 1983, and was part of the Kmart Corporation. Not coincidentally, two other warehouse clubs also began operations in 1983: Costco and Sam’s Club. Right behind them, in 1984, came BJ’s Wholesale Club (which was started by another familiar Laurel retailer, by the way—Zayre.) All of these followed Price Club—recognized as the very first warehouse club—in 1976.

By the early 1990s, the competition was pulling away, however; and PACE, unfortunately, just wasn’t able to keep pace. In 1993, Walmart acquired it from Kmart and converted many (but not all) locations into Sam’s Clubs.

After posting just the logo alone on Lost Laurel’s Facebook page, dozens of people began to reply—including many who worked at PACE. Surprisingly, they apparently hadn’t thought about it in years, either.

Below are a number of press photos from 1986 and 1992, respectfully, which are being sold by the Historic Images photo archive on eBay. And following those are a couple of particularly interesting articles (as well as display ads) from local papers leading up to the opening of the Laurel store. With today’s prevalence of big box stores and its effects on small town commerce, these articles are somewhat prophetic. It’s also ironic that PACE itself would be absorbed by Walmart, with whom so many countless small businesses simply haven’t been able to compete.

I’m still hoping to track down some photos of the actual Laurel store; but in the meantime, hopefully whoever was searching for PACE returns to see what what their initial search prompted… and what we’ve uncovered so far.

From the Baltimore Sun, February 1, 1985:

From the Washington Post, October 28, 1985:

Washington Post display ads:

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IHOP’s Big Boy?

The end of Laurel's original IHOP, 1995. (Photo courtesy of Eric Ziegler)

As a kid, I walked from Steward Manor to the mall at least once a week. Under the railroad overpass on Bowie Road, up past the Fair Lanes bowling alley on Marshall Avenue, and on beyond the Ponderosa/Sizzler Steakhouse before crossing Route 1—cutting through the Bob’s Big Boy parking lot along the way.

Then, upon entering the Laurel Shopping Center grounds, I’d find myself beside the tall, imposing A-frame structure with the blue roof—the International House of Pancakes.

A 1970s postcard featuring an out of state, but remarkably similar setting.

Laurel’s IHOP was originally located in the iconic building for which it was designed, and situated just beside what was originally the Hecht Co. building (then Woolco, and then Jamesway…and soon to be L.A. Fitness). It occupied the space now being used by the extended strip mall parallel to Washington Blvd. In fact, when you go to that Starbucks and await your beverage,  you’ll be standing approximately where you once would’ve been eating pancakes. The entire left side of this shopping center (including Starbucks and Petco) sits on what was originally the IHOP grounds; as throughout the 1980s, only Radio Shack, Long & Foster Real Estate, and the Grecian Spa were housed there. Amazingly, Radio Shack is still in that same location on the corner beside Marshall Ave.

(historicaerials.com)

In the summer of 1993, an unusual move took place. IHOP decided to leave its building, and move into a slightly larger one just across Washington Blvd.—in the building that had recently been vacated by Bob’s Big Boy—where it continues to operate today.

But while highly successful, today’s modern IHOP doesn’t have nearly the same nostalgic aura that it had in the old building. Case in point, here are a few vintage pieces that represent that era quite well—including an actual menu from 1974 that will totally have you craving pancakes.

Before the building was demolished in 1995, it briefly saw new life as a Christmas decoration shop called “Santa’s Cottage”. The most notable change was the roof, which went from IHOP blue to Santa red. Still, passersby continued to mistake the building for what it originally was. According to a November 21, 1993 Washington Post article written by popular Laurel Leader columnist, Tony Glaros, “the old place still attracts creatures of habit in search of oatmeal, not ornaments.” Santa’s Cottage manager Carter Hoyle added, “It took about a month and a half to get the pancake smell out of here.”

For many Laurelites, myself included, there will always remain a connection between IHOP and Bob’s Big Boy. I can’t think of one without remembering the other. I’m sure there are other former Bob’s Big Boy locations that were eventually taken over by IHOP, but I don’t believe it was a universal change. So it was rather ironic—yet quite fitting—to come across an eBay listing for these vintage glasses, being sold as a pair. I doubt the auction will last until Christmas, but if it does, perhaps I’ll ask Santa for them—thus completing the trifecta.

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High’s Dairy Store

Ironically, one of the first places I probably would’ve gone to pick up my copy of today’s Laurel Leader was High’s. Along with a delicious ICEE, of course. Or Butter Brickle ice cream. Or both.

Apparently, the paper is no longer sold at the likes of 7-Eleven, CVS, Safeway, or Giant. Fortunately, though, complimentary copies are available at the Laurel Municipal Center and other areas around town. If the free copies run out, however, I’m told that you can still buy them—at the Quick Stop… otherwise known as the former High’s on Main Street. Hmm… I wonder if they sell ICEEs?

Photos of High’s locations at All Saints Road and Sandy Spring Road (center band across ad): Michael Cassidy (Laurel Patch).
Main Street photos: Richard Friend (top: 2008, bottom: 2012)
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Basics Food Warehouse

With forecasters calling for a bit of winter weather in the DC area tonight, you can rest assured that grocery stores will be packed. Traditionally, even the slightest hint of snow prompts residents to stock up on three essentials: milk, bread, and toilet paper. In other words, the basics.

Whenever I hear the word “basics”, I think of the store that once occupied the east corner space of Laurel Plaza shopping center at Routes 198 and 197. It was the former Grand Union, (which was actually still the parent company of the Basics brand), and for the past 25+ years, it’s been the Village Thrift Store.

I can still recall a sense of excitement in the air back in April 1980, at the notion of a brand new grocery chain opening up. Not that I had any reason to be excited about it, as I was only 7 years old at the time. But something about Basics just seemed different and markedly ahead of its time. And all these years later, I feel the same way.

There was a clear concept behind the Basics brand—simplicity. This was something unique in a time when Giant Food was flexing its local muscle against the likes of Safeway, A & P, and Pantry Pride, and each were promoting their own respective brands in a more conventional manner. But Basics stripped everything down, literally, to the point that its aesthetic was practically generic. And you saw this the moment you entered the store, passing through the produce aisle. Gone were the old molded plastic shelves with rubber shopping cart protectors; here, massive plain cardboard boxes contained oranges, grapefruits, and lettuce. Above each were impressive, hand-lettered signs that had been painstakingly rendered in chalk on black boards. There was a distinct, no-frills vibe all throughout the store, unlike the other chains who plastered their brand on anything and everything.

But by early 1984, despite the success of Basics, Grand Union was ready to call it quits. Basics had run Pantry Pride out of town within its first year of operation, but Giant and Safeway proved to be just too much.

Washington Post, January 17, 1984

There are little reminders of the Basics legacy in and around Laurel today, particularly at places like Shoppers Food Warehouse, which has capitalized on the same no-frills, basic (no pun intended) precepts that Basics founded. Be sure to warmly remember them while you’re out picking up your milk, bread, and toilet paper tonight… and know that wherever you go, Basics certainly would’ve been cheaper.

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Main Street Memories: Gavriles

Photo: Laurel Historical Society

Far and away, one of the most nostalgic businesses of all time for generations of Laurel residents is Gavriles—the beloved luncheonette, candy shop, and so much more—that finally closed in 1989 after 79 years in business at 385 Main Street.

I’ve found a couple of newspaper clippings with photos that captured both the beginning and the end of this hometown treasure.

There was a very nice article on Gavriles published early last year at Laurel Patch. And while the Laurel Library only retained the first page of the April 23, 1989 article shown above, I’ve tracked down the complete text from the Washington Post’s archives:

***

In Laurel, a Fountain of Nostalgia; Gavriles Family Closing Gathering Spot for 79 Years of Memories
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post (pre-1997 Fulltext) – Washington, D.C.
Author: Eugene L. Meyer
Date: Apr 23, 1989
Start Page: b.08
Section: METRO
Text Word Count: 918
On Main Street in Laurel, a picture post card turn-of-the-century downtown midway between Baltimore and Washington, residents are in mourning these days. Gavriles, a local institution known for its tasty milkshakes, egg salad sandwiches and friendly proprietors, is going out of business.

But weep not for the Gavriles-Theodore, 82, Nicholas, 75, and their sister Christine, 80, whose immigrant father Speros opened an ice cream parlor and candy store here in 1910. Nostalgia is for others. Retirement is for them.

“It don’t take me long to part with it,” said Theodore, whom they call Teddy. “I got so tired of merchandise, I’d throw myself away if I’d thought of it. You don’t know how happy we were on Sundays when we were closed.”

Agreed Nicholas: “No, I’m not gonna miss it; I don’t know about the public. It’s too many long hours, it has you tied down. It’ll be a relief.”

Added Christine, philosophically, “I mean all good things come to this,” an end. “Everybody liked the shakes. I did, too. Well, that’s that.”

The store has been a fixture for years in this town of 15,000 at the northern edge of Prince George’s County. Much around it has changed, as superhighways and subdivisions have changed the landscape. But Laurel, a former mill town that became a railroad suburb, retained its own special flavor and identity.

Gavriles has been part of that identity, with its soda fountain and lunch tables that provided a familiar meeting and eating place at 385 Main St.

“Somehow, I feel this building should be declared a historical site,” said Sharon Gordon, who told them, “I loved having my lunch here. I’m so sorry you’re leaving. I can hardly stop from crying, it’s so sad.”

Ray Streeks, who used to own the baby supplies shop next door, wished them well and fought back tears. “Well, Theodore,” he said, “I’m gonna go. I just can’t stand this. It breaks my heart to see you all close up.”

Everything in the store is for sale now, from the two-cent lollipops to the old-fashioned phone booth, asking price $2,000, to a milkshake machine for $75. The brothers are even selling their own wooden shoe trees, for $2 a pair, and Theodore was parting with his summer and winter hats for $1.50 apiece.

There were a few buyers Friday among the steady stream of people stopping by. Most were old friends and customers who came to wish them well, say goodbye and pay their respects. “These people are like family,” said Charles Flynn. “I’ve been in and out of here all my life. They’re very nice people, the best.”

The Gavriles are moving to Michigan to live near their niece in Dearborn. She is here helping them dispose of the business. “We just bought them a house today five minutes from me,” said Eve Scott, whose mother Mary was the only one of seven Gavriles to marry and have children. “I’ve been pushing for this for some time,” Scott said. “I know it’s an institution, but I’m more concerned with them than with an institution.”

The Gavriles, who live in a four-bedroom apartment over the store, had no retirement plans. But then Christine became ill and was hospitalized for weeks. The brothers decided it was the time for the three of them to move on.

The hand-lettered sign on the front door and window says, “Quitting the Business-Selling Out.” Another sign says, “Fountain and Lunch Counter Closed.”

The neon sign that announces “Gavriles/Candy/Soda/Lunch” outside will stay with the store, they’ve decided. “I feel kind of good about that,” said Christine. “Old Papa, you’re still hanging around . . . . ” Their niece said a developer who wants to keep the place as a luncheonette is interested in buying the building. The Gavriles are asking $450,000 for it.

“Sure, we’re happy,” Theodore said. “We didn’t have an ounce of freedom before. A small business isn’t easy, never was. We had a lot of good times, but as far as making a fortune, there wasn’t no fortune in it.”

Of course, they’ll miss the people if not the work, they said. To customers who came by to wish them well, they even apologized for closing.

“It makes me so sad, but you need a rest, don’t you?” said Sharon Powell, who had brought along her son Roger, 10. She said she had first brought him to the store when he was 2. “He said, `Can we come down here for lunch?’ ”

“I’m sorry, Roger,” Theodore told the boy. “I’m sorry I can’t help you.”

But Theodore was able to help Will Neese, 39, who came in with wife Sheri and son Matthew, 5, to buy some toys. “I had no idea they were closing,” he said. “My gosh, I was five years old when I first came in here.”

Theodore, who also had a clock repair shop on Main Street for years, told him, “I have a clock your mother never came to get. I saw her at the drugstore 10 years ago and told her it was ready. Will you give it to her?”

Scott brought the clock out from the back. “I’m glad you came around,” Theodore said. “That was going to be the last thing we were going to sell.”

[Illustration]

PHOTO,,Carol Guzy CAPTION:Amid the store’s jumble, Betty Jane Wenzel, right, gives Christine Gavriles a goodbye kiss. Theodore Gavriles is at far right. CAPTION:The neon sign will remain with the store. The business was started in 1910.

***

Having sold off its remaining inventory, its not surprising to see the occasional Gavriles artifact resurface on eBay. Most recently, a number of vintage trick-or-treat candy bags were listed.

Unfortunately, and as you’d probably imagine, the treats were not included.

 

 

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Ponderosa Steakhouse

Long before the current (as of this writing) Laurel Station Bar & Grill on Baltimore Ave., there was one of these—a Ponderosa Steakhouse.

It’s been any number of different establishments since its heyday in the 1970s—most notably, (and similarly) perhaps, a Sizzler—but I’ve literally lost count. For me, the building has always been (and always will be) Ponderosa.

Ironically, I may have only eaten there one time before it closed in the early 80s, but I walked past it almost daily en route to the mall.

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Tastee-Freez… Exploring the Wreckage

How many times have you thought about an old favorite restaurant, store—or even an apartment or house—that you’ll never get to experience again, and wish you’d taken more photos of it when you had the chance? Or even just one photo?

Unfortunately, most of us were too busy enjoying the moment to think about preserving the moment. Aside from the occasional employees who were mindful enough to capture a few snapshots during their tenures, most of us just never thought to bring a camera to these places in their heyday. Most of us took it for granted that the places where we grew up were not only unremarkable, but that they’d always be there.

And then we grew up.

While they’re certainly not from its heyday, a pair of photos by Flickr member sally henny penny succeed in preserving a moment—a final, quiet, and reflective moment inside Laurel’s Tastee-Freez/Big T restaurant—shortly after it closed in 2007 and was razed in 2009.

To get the full effect, you really have to view them at their full size on Flickr, or click the photos below to enlarge.

There’s an unsettling contrast in the scene; on the one hand, it’s every bit as familiar as it was in the 1980s. You’re instantly transported—once again standing before the counter in the Big T, glancing at the overhead menus—some of which appear to even be backlit. The trio of heat lamps are still there, ready to warm arguably the best roast beef known to man. Business cards and flyers—perhaps advertising The Whitewalls band, or an antique car show—are still tacked to the bulletin board near the exit.

But at the same time, there are the unmistakable clues that this is merely a shell of the Big T that we knew and loved. It’s closed, and it’s not opening ever again. The chairs are stacked on the tables; but more ominously, parts of the counter and electrical wiring have been disassembled. And most of all, there’s a distinct sense of emptiness in the restaurant which was heretofore unimaginable in this warm and vibrant place.

Not to compare the Big T’s demise to the worst maritime tragedy of the 20th century, of course; but something about this scene just feels eerily like exploring the underwater wreckage of the greatest “Big T” of all—the Titanic, which sank a century ago this year, coincidentally.

But then again, nobody ever raved about the roast beef sandwiches on the Titanic, to my knowledge. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people are still talking about this wonderful place a hundred years from now, as well.

 

Photo: sally henny penny (Flickr)

Photo: sally henny penny (Flickr)

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Pantry Pride… Cook’s… and Magruder’s… Oh My!

Laurel residents of the 1970s—particularly those in the South Laurel/Montpelier area—filled their pantries with Pantry Pride products for more than a decade.

The popular supermarket occupied the north corner anchor spot in Montpelier Shopping Plaza along Rt. 197; a location it had enjoyed for years, essentially competing only against the pricier Giant Food at nearby Town Center. According to a July 16, 1981 clipping from the Laurel Leader, Pantry Pride had been considered the most economical supermarket in all of Laurel—until Grand Union introduced “Basics”, its new store (and a precursor to Shoppers Food Warehouse) a few miles further north at the Laurel Plaza Shopping Center. When Food Fair—Pantry Pride’s parent company—filed for bankruptcy, that spelled the end for 48 locations in the region. On August 1, 1981, the long-time grocery favorite closed its doors.

I was only 8 years old at the time, which might explain why I have no memory of Pantry Pride television commercials such as this:

I do, however, remember going there frequently—usually with my grandparents, who lived at nearby Crestleigh Apartments at the time. And in hindsight, Pantry Pride might have been the first store closing that I ever experienced. I can recall a distinct sense of disappointment upon learning exactly what that meant—”going out of business”—and a sudden desire to retain something of the store for sentimental reasons, before it disappeared for good. (Something I obviously never grew out of, huh?)

Oddly enough, I have very little recollection of the store that replaced it some three months later, aside from its name—Cook’s Supermarket, part of another small chain of independent stores in the DC area.

Instead, I seem to remember Magruder’s occupying the space for most of my youth… although neither it nor Cook’s ever made quite the same impression on me as Pantry Pride.

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Signs of the Times: Disappearing Neon of Route 1

Route 1 has seen a change or two over the past century, hasn’t it?

The black and white photos above are from the Laurel, Maryland Centennial Souvenir Historical Booklet (1970), and show what—for most of us who grew up in Laurel in the last quarter of the 20th century—is a very familiar scene from 1970. However, the current street view is almost as unrecognizable as the sparse 1907 tableau.

There probably isn’t another stretch of road in Laurel that was more densely populated with over-sized neon signage than this particular corridor; and slowly but surely, they’re disappearing from the landscape. A savvy photographer (with the right telephoto lens) might have been able to capture quite a few of them in a single shot from the right vantage point. At one time—within less than half a mile from each other—one could see not only the Tastee-Freez/Big T and Texaco signs shown above—but those of Arby’s, Giant, and the Laurel Cinema marquee.

Photo: Maryland Route 5 (Flickr)

Photo: Maryland Route 5 (Flickr)

photo: apricotX (Flickr)

The Arby’s and Giant signs are still fully functional, and both are fortunately still open for business. While the Laurel Cinema marquee is technically still standing, it’s in poor shape—and with the movie theater officially closed (again), it’s probably only a matter of time before the old sign is finally torn down.

One interesting detail I noticed in the 1970 shot is the wording of “Big Tee Burgers”. At some point after, it had been skillfully modified to read “Big T Family Restaurant”, as it remained until its ultimate demise.

Photo: stgermh (Flickr)

Another reader noted that the road doesn’t appear to have been widened much over the years, either. Apparently, somebody reasoned that if it was big enough for all those neon giants, it’d be big enough for whatever vehicular traffic might pass through.

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