This weekend, the Laurel Art Center reopened its doors (shuttered since February, when the Emery family announced their intent to close the iconic 35-year-old business) for a massive liquidation sale.
I visited with the intent of picking up copies of the few remaining Marian Quinn pen & ink reproductions of vintage Laurel landmarks that I hadn’t already purchased this past year—including one of the Laurel Art Center itself. (I’d superstitiously delayed buying it for fear that it too would become part of Lost Laurel.)
I anticipated quite a turnout after the sale was publicized in the Laurel Leader, and was right. By 10:30 Saturday morning, the line of paying customers was already to the back of the store. Needless to say, it was probably the longest line they’ve seen since the store’s inception. If only they could’ve had such lines all the time, but I digress.
And the wait to pay at the register was upwards of 45 minutes, but worth every second—not just for the incredible 75% discount, but for the time it provided to reflect on just how many visits I’d made to this wonderful store over the years. Even the carpet—that old, patchwork of mixed fabrics—caught my eye and brought back memories.
While standing in line, it was fitting that I noticed a few remaining watercolor sets—much like the little sets my parents first bought for me back in the late 1970s and early 80s, which undoubtedly fueled my early artistic ambitions. Of course, it would eventually be this very store that provided everything I’d need for drawing and painting, including the tons of supplies I required during my time at the Corcoran College of Art + Design.
The Laurel Art Center has honestly been a key part of my life for as long as I can remember. From my early childhood love of drawing and painting, to my college and professional career as a graphic designer, and even today as a casual historian of all things Laurel. So while I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by on Saturday to make sure I bought every last thing I could (and I did score some fantastic pieces, including some Marian Quinn originals for less than I’d paid for some prints), I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly photograph the store one last time with just my iPhone—not to mention with the crowds of other enthusiastic shoppers milling about. A return trip was in order today with a real camera, for one final walk through in an effort to document the countless details of the old store; to try to convey the experience of browsing through this 10,000 square foot eclectic treasure trove.
Both the inventory and the crowds were sparser, but the unmistakeable ambiance was still there.
(You can also view the complete photo set here on Flickr.)
While photographing each aisle, a vaguely familiar looking gentleman approached—also with a camera. “Looks like we had the same idea today,” he said. And within seconds, I realized that this must be John Floyd, II—the long-time Laurel resident who’s provided not just me, but the Laurel Leader and many others over the years with so many great photos and insight to the town’s history! “John?” I asked. “Rich?” He replied. We’ve been corresponding via email for the past year, but hadn’t had the chance to meet in person until today. Leave it to the Laurel Art Center to create one more memorable moment for me—on its final day, no less.
Main Street certainly won’t be the same without the store, nor will its legions of fans ever forget what it has meant to them over all these years. As one of the youngest members of the Emery family helped bag up my final purchases, (including a Marian Quinn original pen & ink of Petrucci’s and Pal Jack’s Pizza that I got for $18.75—I can’t believe no one else spotted that on the wall before I did) I took one last look at the thank you note on the counter.
No, thank you, Laurel Art Center. For everything.
Postscript: One additional print I made sure to buy today was that of The Gallery—the other Emery family-owned art and framing business just one block up on Main Street. Yesterday, I stopped by and spoke with Cathy Emery, who has been pulling double duty handling the fallout from the Art Center’s closing. Since February, The Gallery has been fulfilling orders that were placed through the Art Center. I remarked, half-jokingly, that I hope they aren’t planning on leaving anytime soon. You can imagine my surprise to learn that they were actually planning to do just that—even before the Art Center pulled the plug. Yikes.
While I’d love to hope that The Gallery will persevere and continue the Emery family’s wonderful artistic legacy in Laurel, it sounds as though their time may also be short. Be sure to visit their shop at 344 Main Street for all of your framing needs, and for both originals and reprints of Cathy’s amazing work documenting Laurel’s places past.