Tag Archives: The Hecht Co.

Hecht’s, version 2.0: Laurel Centre

Thirty-one years ago this week, the Laurel Leader noted the opening of the brand new Hecht’s at Laurel Centre—completing the relocation from its original building in the open Laurel Shopping Center, where it had been since the early 1960s. It would go on to be the sole occupant of the new building until Hecht’s eventually folded, and became Macy’s.

The new store had upper and lower levels, and included the popular Edgar’s Restaurant and an in-house beauty salon. As the above photo will attest, it also featured a small but beguiling kids’ section called the “Land of Ahhs”, where stuffed animals and board games filled whimsical display cases, including the locomotive and Snoopy’s doghouse seen here.

A clipping from October 1980 (seven months earlier) showed the building still under construction just beyond the Laurel Shopping Center:

What I remember most about the store wasn’t so much the displays or the wares themselves, but the floors. Weird, I know.

But the distinctive parquet flooring was something new to me as a child; something I’d probably only seen on TV during Boston Celtics games before. And the flooring layout in the new Hecht’s wasn’t traditional, either. Other department stores had rudimentary walkways; typically around the perimeter of the store and intersecting at central points throughout. The new Hecht’s, however, utilized these new parquet pathways differently—weaving throughout the store in short straight lines and 45-degree angles. In a video posted on YouTube in late March of this year, (shortly after Macy’s closed) I was surprised to see that the flooring was, in fact, still there. You can also get a sense of how these angling pathways once encouraged shoppers to explore the countless nooks and crannies the store had to offer.

Screenshots from “Tour of the Dead Laurel Centre Mall”, by CaltecCenter (YouTube)

Apparently, Macy’s didn’t do a whole lot of upkeep over the years after inheriting the building.

And driving past the old mall last week—just days after its official May 1st closing—the building looked essentially as it has since that upper parking deck spectacularly collapsed back in July 2005. Empty.

(6 digital images by John Floyd II, 2005)

Now that mall has been formally closed, (and just as ominously, a double-wide construction crew trailer set up in the parking lot) the building that once housed both Hecht’s and Macy’s will probably be disappearing soon. More likely, what’s left of those fragile parking decks surrounding it will be the first to go.

But oddly enough, one Hecht’s-related item that never seems to completely disappear are those cardboard gift boxes, especially at Christmas. I’m kind of glad for that. It’s like seeing an old friend.

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One building, two grand openings… exactly 30 years apart

Photo: Don Knieriem

Today marked the long-awaited grand opening of the new LA Fitness at Laurel Shopping Center.

The new fitness mega-center occupies the site of the original Hecht Co. building; but with its massive architectural makeover, it bears little to no resemblance to Hecht’s—or to Toys R Us, which most recently left a lasting label scar on the building that once also housed Woolco and Jamesway.

Photo: Benoit6 (Flickr)

And speaking of Woolco, it was actually 30 years ago this very day when it had its grand opening in the very same building—March 31, 1982.

Let’s hope for the sake of LA Fitness (and more importantly, for the city of Laurel) that this new tenant proves to have considerably more long-term success. Woolco, unfortunately, went on to occupy the building for just one year before closing. But then again, they never had a swimming pool, basketball courts, and tons of gym equipment.

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So, the Woolco experiment didn’t go quite as planned in the old Hecht Co. building. And just a little over a year later, in April 1983, another store tried its luck. So did hundreds of eager Laurel residents, who came out on opening day to try to catch ping-pong balls—being tossed from the roof by skydivers—in order to win free door prizes.

Jamesway, founded in 1961 in Jamestown, NY (hence its name), rapidly expanded over the next two decades—eventually peaking at 138 stores in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Woolco was one of several defunct stores that Jamesway subsequently acquired.

It was actually very much like Woolco, in that it was a large discount department store that seemingly carried everything under the sun; but it felt newer. And to those of us in Laurel, it was new—I’d certainly never even heard of Jamesway before those ads started coming out. And the Jamesway brand felt fresher, too, with its bright blue, orange, and yellow.

Photo: cooldude166861 (Flickr)

I’m still not sure why they went with those mint green shopping carts, but they too felt new.

Photo: snappyjack1 (Flickr)

Being the discount department store that it was, (competing with the likes of Zayre/Ames and Bradlees at the time) Jamesway certainly didn’t appeal to fashion-and brand-conscious kids of the 1980s. Nonetheless, it was a great resource for all other things; you just didn’t want your parents coming home with any kind of Jamesway clothing for you. Or worse, shoes. I don’t remember exactly what a pair of Jamesway sneakers looked like, but I assume they did, in fact, exist. And it’s a safe assumption that they fell under the dreaded “maypops” category. Which is a shame, of course, because the clothes probably weren’t necessarily bad. The shirts just didn’t have little alligators sewn on them.

Photo: BACKYard Woods Explorer (Flickr)

Jamesway definitely fared better than Woolco did, and the Laurel store proved to be a popular and successful location that remained through the decade. But the 1990s weren’t nearly as kind, and by 1991—despite the 138 stores and sales of $855 million, according to Wikipedia—changes were afoot. A refinancing saw 11 stores close that year; and by July 1993, Jamesway had filed for Chapter 11 protection. Additional stores continued to close throughout 1994, as the company spiraled downhill. Finally, between October and December 1995, Jamesway closed all of its remaining stores and liquidated its inventory… even down to all those unused price stickers.

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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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Hecht’s… and Edgar’s

Like the proverbial “2-for-1” special, today’s focus is on a restaurant within a department store—both of which, of course, are now long gone.

I remember Edgar’s—the restaurant within Hecht’s at Laurel Centre Mall—more for its distinctive, art deco logo that I’d often pass while walking the upper level parquet floors en route to the mall proper. Truth be told, I don’t actually recall ever having eaten there; but I remember that logo—particularly Edgar’s beady little eyes and pencil mustache. In fact, to this day, whenever I hear the expression “beady eyes”, I immediately think of Edgar.

While I’m pretty sure I could’ve drawn it from memory, I found a couple of Washington Post ads from 1985 and 86, respectively, which feature both the logo and the beady-eyed Edgar himself.

The prices, I have to say, look great—even for the mid-1980s. And from what I’ve heard, the food was actually quite good.

While they’re not Edgar-specific, I’ve noticed a few Hecht’s Restaurants glasses on eBay, promoting Lipton Iced Tea. Coincidentally, that Lipton Iced Tea logo guy also had quite a mustache, didn’t he? Fortunately, his eyes weren’t so beady, though.

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What the Hecht’s?!

And speaking of Hecht’s, here’s a great find from The Department Store Museum: an architectural rendering of the actual 84,000 square-foot Hecht Co. building at Laurel Shopping Center!

Also, one of our Facebook friends submitted a Polaroid photo taken as construction was nearly finished:

Photo: Tom Baker

The building was originally designed specifically for Hecht’s, and was one of only 11 branch stores in the Washington, DC area. Hecht’s relocated with the advent of Laurel Centre Mall, where it would become one of the anchor stores for more than a decade (ultimately becoming Macy’s—which is surprisingly still open in what’s left of the mall). Meanwhile, the original building at Baltimore Ave & Montrose St. would go on to see new life as Jamesway and Toys R Us, among other things.

As of this writing, it’s sadly being gutted… and turned into an L.A. Fitness center.

Logo, 1960s–70s

Logo, 1980s–2000s

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