Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency

Watercolor by Cathy Emery

Every so often, you come across a picture—or in this case, a painting—that just instantly transports you back. And, more often than not, it’s a picture of something simple; something that was once a mundane part of your everyday life… which you naively assumed would be there forever.

Such was the case with Cathy Emery’s painting of Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency. If you’d told me 30 years ago—when I was a kid, frequently stopping in Keller’s/Knapp’s for magazines, Chiclets fruit gum, Hostess pies, and the like—that there would one day be a painting of the establishment, (let alone that I would actually want it) I never would’ve believed you. But after the store that had graced (perhaps “graced” isn’t quite the word for it) the corner of Main and B Streets since the late 1940s had finally closed down and given way to the new Revere Bank building, that painting hits home.

It’s exactly as I remember it—the view from across the street, where you could already smell the mingling aroma of produce and newspapers. It may not sound like it, but it was a good smell.

A photo from the same angle appeared in the 1987 Citizens National Bank complimentary calendar (Photo: Susan L. Cave)

As wonderful as it was to see that familiar exterior again after all these years, it didn’t compare to the joy of getting to look inside.

On a recent visit to the Laurel Library, there in the March 14, 1985 issue of the Laurel Leader—appropriately headlining the Our Town section of the paper—was the smiling, laughing face of one Fred Knapp himself. And there he was, standing at his familiar post behind the cluttered counter of Knapp’s.

Fred Knapp. Laurel Leader Staff Photo by Tenney Mason, March 14, 1985

Venerable Leader writer Tony Glaros painted a warm portrait of Mr. Knapp and his memorable old store, and reading it now brings a smile and laugh as big as the one Mr. Knapp is shown enjoying in that photo. The article mentions his penchant for “dazzling his customers”:

“I know what they want before they get here, ” says Fred. “I look out the window and play this game. If I see a guy coming and I know what kind of cigarettes he gets or whatever, I have them ready when he gets here.”

This trait is reiterated later in the article in even more detail:

Fred already knows who smokes what brand, eats what candy and reads what newspaper. He greets them, firing off terms of affection in staccato fashion. “Hey, maestro!” “What else, love?” “Good morning, doctor.” “Thank you, darlin’. Have a good day and be careful out there.”

That’s the part that stuck with me the most. I can vividly recall being referred to as both “Maestro” and “Doctor” by Mr. Knapp. I remember thinking that was particularly cool, given that I was barely ten years old at the time.

The article included some interesting historical data, too. According to this, the newsstand had been operating out of the same location since June 21, 1947*, when Charlie Keller (Fred’s Knapp’s late father-in-law) first opened it. Fred worked for Mr. Keller “on and off” for thirty years, commuting by bus during the day to his job as an Army engineer at Fort Belvoir, VA, and helping Keller out at night. Mr. Keller died in 1978, and Fred took over the business—where it would remain a family affair until the end.

Fred, who was 52 years old at the time of the article, conceded that the hours were the toughest part of the job. “I come in at six o’clock in the morning, five in the summertime so I can catch the fishermen who want worms and beer and sodas and ice and all the junk like that.” It was a routine that he adhered to an astounding 13 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. His only respite, he said, were Sundays—when he’d sleep in until 10:30 before heading back to the store.

I also happened upon a Laurel Leader supplement from 1982, which featured an even wider view of the newsstand’s interior—with Mr. Knapp diligently restocking his ample periodical section:

And in a truly unique view, Tom Jarrell shared this shot from atop Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre in October 1988:

Photo: Tom Jarrell

Earlier this week, I posted the photo of Fred Knapp on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, where it yielded a flood of fond memories. But the best news of all came from Debbie Welch-Foulks, who is Mr. Knapp’s stepdaughter. She tells us that he is living in Elkridge, MD these days, and doing well! She added:

I just got him on the phone and was reading all the posts to him—he was laughing up a storm. He misses everyone….

Laurel misses you, too, Mr. Knapp. Very much so.

Postscript:
*Various ads cited “Since 1948”, but the Laurel Leader article is the only reference I’ve found that mentions an actual starting date of June 21, 1947.

A desolate view in 2007. (Photo: spork232, panoramio.com)
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One thought on “Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency

  1. Susie Souder says:

    I remember this so well. Every saturday morning coming into town in my dads old pick up truck to buy groceries and we bought fruit here and the newspaper and my dads chewing tobacco.

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