Tag Archives: Montpelier


Photo: John Floyd II

This 1973 photo of Laurel Shopping Center shows a Maryland State Police medivac helicopter on the scene near what was at the time the Hecht Co. parking lot. In the distance is the iconic Giant Food sign (which still stands), and the massive movie screen from Wineland’s Drive-In (which closed in 1984). But if you look closely, you’ll spot another familiar building—albeit a tiny one. Here’s another hint: its yellow roof almost matches the helicopter.

Yes, despite the flurry of police and medical activity in the picture, we’re going to focus instead on that tiny little building that sits just below the Giant Food sign. The Fotomat.

Laurel had two Fotomats that I can recall: this one in Laurel Shopping Center, and another in Montpelier Shopping Center. Fotomat buildings (if you can call the tiny structures “buildings”) were nearly identical across the country; a trait that was brilliantly incorporated into their brand. I was always rather fond of those buildings, and to a child, it somehow seemed a bit more exciting to drop our film off there for processing… as opposed to the dreary pharmacy counter at the back of the Dart Drug. The concept of a drive-thru photo place—which also sold film, batteries, and other camera needs—still seems awesome. But even as a kid, I imagined that working at a Fotomat must have been a special kind of hell—especially during the sweltering Maryland summers.

Fotomat was a pioneer in rush-processing, and became massively popular by offering one-day turnaround, which had previously seemed unheard of. Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, the competition had caught up and passed them by—with one-hour turnaround. Soon thereafter, abandoned Fotomats could be spotted more often than operational ones. Some were briefly turned into mini ice cream stands, coffee shops, locksmiths, and who knows what else—but most were simply left to wither away.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Roadsidenut (WordPress.com)

Photo: muledriver (Flickr)

Still, whenever I look at photos of Laurel from the early 80s, I often wonder about where they might have been processed. Undoubtedly, many of them came from Fotomat—maybe even this one.

Photo: gatsbyiris (Flickr)

Photo: Christian Montone (Flickr)

Photo: photoslipdesigns.blogspot.com

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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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