Tag Archives: Main Street

Cook’s Laurel Hardware Co.

Long before Laurel’s labyrinthine Home Depot—and even Hechinger—there was a small hardware store on Main Street that seemed to carry everything. Just as importantly, they knew were everything was.

Perhaps, like me, you weren’t particularly handy with power tools (growing up in an apartment complex like Steward Manor with a highly-capable maintenance team can have that effect, you know.) But even if you’d never ventured inside Cook’s Laurel Hardware Company, chances are you remember seeing their iconic neon sign—a throwback to their 1938 origins—every time you passed by.

If you did go inside, chances are you remember the creaky wooden floors, patched together with metal flashing—also a testament to Cook’s 59 years of service to Laurel. Former customers of all ages fondly recall visits with parents, grandparents… and even dogs, which were welcomed inside.

For most of its long tenure on Main Street, the store was identifiable by that distinctive neon sign at least as much as its red brick exterior. Until 1983, however, when the store’s facade underwent a dramatic makeover—ivory and dark green paint brought new life to the Main Street classic.

Cook's original red brick facade can be seen in this 1975 photo of Laurel Rescue 19 and Engine 101 responding to a gas leak at 5th & Main Steets. (Photo: John Floyd II)

Laurel Leader, 1983

Cook's—with it's new paint—as it appeared in a 1987 Citizens National Bank courtesy calendar (Photo: Susan L. Cave)

But by the mid-1990s, Laurel was in full transition mode—adapting to the arrival of discount retailers such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, Kohl’s, and The Sports Authority, among others. Main Street’s small shopkeepers struggled to secure their niche market amid the flurry of large-scale retailers. And ironically, it wasn’t the big box stores that ultimately doomed Cook’s—not completely, anyway. Technically, it was old people. Upon closing in the summer of 1997, the building was razed to make room for a 124-unit apartment building for senior citizens—Selbourn House.

In a Washington Post article that noted the impending closure, owner Bob Cook—a longtime member and president of the Laurel Board of Trade—regretted shuttering the old hardware store that bore his name, but he remained surprisingly optimistic for the town:

While he laments the store’s closing, Cook views it as part of the transformation begun three years ago by Laurel’s government and business leaders to boost employment, spur economic development and make the most of Laurel’s location, halfway between Baltimore and the District. Cook believes the proposed senior housing complex will help draw people to city streets, where eventually they will shop with tourists who are drawn to stores selling antiques and crafts.

Washington Post, 1997

Cook’s Laurel Hardware Company has been gone now for some 15 years, but in many ways, it lives on—and not just in memories.

Norman James, Jr. is an accomplished sign maker whose passion is in documenting, rescuing, and restoring classic neon signs of the Baltimore/Washington area. He then showcases the old beauties he’s rescued (as well as some that he couldn’t) on his website, often with fantastic historical notes that may have otherwise been lost to the ages.

Norm lost his bid to procure the Cook’s sign in 1997; and for the next 11 years, it sat in the coffee shop just across the street from the old hardware store itself. But, fast-forward to 2008—and the coffee shop itself was closing. Better late than never, Norm was more than willing to once again give the 400-pound, 6′ x 6′ sign a good home.

Courtesy of Norman James, Jr. (http://www.normanssigngarden.mysite.com)

During his restoration, Norm uncovered (literally) an old secret behind the Cook’s sign:

“HIDDEN MESSAGE! I discovered the lower portions, or ‘Cook’s’ panels were lay-overs, concealing the original message. Lucas Paints were manufactured in Pennsylvania for about 75 years when bought out by Sherwin-Williams, in the early 1950’s. The owner of Laurel Hardware had his name added to the sign to cover over the Lucas paints portion, which only was exposed for about the first ten years of the life of the sign. I also discovered the faded nameplate of the original manufacturer of the sign…Triangle in Baltimore. The ‘John Tingen’ lettering was probably from the time the ‘Cooks’ layovers were created.”

You’ll often hear folks talk about the experience of walking through a mom & pop hardware store, and its ambiance: the smell of cut plywood and 2 x 4s; the close proximity of shelves full of nails, drywall screws, and countless other fasteners; the sound of a paint mixer. Nowhere was that experience more appreciable than Cook’s. Sure, Home Depot probably has everything and then some; but sometimes, what a customer really wants is the chance to browse at his or her own pace in a welcoming environment. Preferably one with an old, creaky wooden floor.

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Pizza Friday: Pal Jack’s

One of the last great Laurel pizza joints closed in December 2010, when Pal Jack’s finally ceased operations. Long known by its easy-to-remember telephone number, (301) PAL-JACK, it was founded by Jack Delaney—original owner of that other great Laurel pizza joint, Delaney’s Irish Pub.

While ownership changed hands over the years, the name (and phone number) remained. The most noticeable difference in this 2010 carryout menu is probably the addition of “curry wraps”—a decidedly eastern fare that wasn’t offered during Pal Jack’s heyday.


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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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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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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.”


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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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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1970 Laurel Centennial Celebration

This photograph of the 300 block of Main Street near Avondale captures more than just a few long-lost details. It was taken during Laurel’s 1970 Centennial Celebration.

Now-gone businesses in the scene include Light’s Shoes and Apparel, the Laurel News Leader newspaper office, and Snyder’s Cleaners.

But the street itself would undergo quite a transformation in the years to follow. Streetside details such as parking meter posts, wooden utility and streetlamp poles—with their bottom ends painted in pastel colors for “beautification”— granite kerbstones, concrete “parking strips”, and large, tall trees have not been seen since Main Street was rebuilt in 1980-1981. Yet, surprisingly, the overall aesthetic of Main Street remains as familiar today as it did on this clear day 41 years ago.

Photo and historical notes: John Floyd II
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Main Street Festival #1

On the Saturday of every Mother’s Day weekend in May since 1981, Laurel has hosted its annual Main Street Festival. The entire length between Rt. 1 and 7th Street is closed to traffic as pedestrians literally fill Main Street—sampling foods from local vendors, listening to music, entering raffles, and just generally having the proverbial grand old time. Now into its 31st year, the event has grown to attract between 75,000 and 100,000 visitors annually.

These photos, courtesy of retired Laurel volunteer firefighter John Floyd II, give a unique glimpse of the very first Main Street Festival—at a simpler time when a number of long-gone names graced the buildings that mostly still remain: Caswell’s Upholstery & Laurel Draperies, Macrame Plus, Laurel Business Machines, Dougherty’s Pharmacy, Barkman’s Florists, Antonio Gatto Custom Tailor, Laurel School of Classical Ballet, Pal Jack’s Pizza (closed in December 2010), Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre, Equitable Trust Bank, Laurel Printing Company, and Gayer’s Saddlery (now Outback Leather).

You can almost smell the funnel cakes…

Photos: John Floyd II
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