Tag Archives: Laurel Art Center

Leo Emery, 1930–2016

Matt, Joyce, and Leo Emery. 2012. Photo by Richard Friend

Very sad news to report—Mr. Leo Emery, longtime owner of the wonderful Laurel Art Center on Main Street, passed away Wednesday, September 28th after a long illness. He was 86. Services are scheduled at Donaldson Funeral Home with visitation on Sunday, October 2nd from 2:00 PM until 4:00 PM. Funeral service is scheduled on Monday, October 3rd at 1:00 PM. Interment will follow at Ivy Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, many in Laurel will want to pay their respects to this kind and generous man who truly put the “art” in Laurel’s Arts District.

(Photo: Richard Friend, 2012)
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A Neighbor’s In Need: Let’s Help!

Last Fall, I was researching the history of Steward Manor Apartments when I stumbled across a photo on eBay.

Photo: John Floyd II, 1974.

It was part of a set of ten original prints being offered, which documented various vehicles from the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and Laurel Rescue Squad in the 1970s. This particular image featured Laurel Rescue 19 (also known as “The Heavy”) leaving its quarters and turning onto Lafayette Ave.; and there in the distance was the familiar southwest corner of my old neighborhood—Steward Manor Apartments. Even the old red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia I remember walking past so many times en route to 7-Eleven, Dart Drug, or the mall was captured—parked right there where I remember it always sitting.

I eagerly bought the photos; and having noticed several other sets for sale, I messaged the seller, John Floyd II, who manages a wonderfully eclectic eBay store—Blackpool Bertie’s Railway Shop. I wondered if perhaps he had any other vintage photos of Steward Manor in his collection. We chatted back and forth, as I explained the premise of my research. I learned that John was a former fireman, and over the years (both before and after his tenures with volunteer fire companies in Laurel and New Jersey) he had diligently photographed firefighting apparatus, training exercises, and countless fires and accident scenes. Aside from this one photo, he didn’t recall having any others of Steward Manor; because as he explained, the old complex was virtually fireproof. He promised to take a look through his archives, though, and would let me know if he came across anything.

In the meantime, I began to take note of some of the other photos he was selling—photos that in a roundabout way, captured images of the Laurel, MD I used to know. Behind the firetrucks were long-gone storefronts from Laurel Shopping Center… the old Fair Lanes bowling alley sign… and a number of stunning photos from the very first Main Street Festival in 1981. I eagerly bought these, as well; and in effect, they turned out to be the inspiration for starting Lost Laurel. You’ve undoubtedly seen these photos throughout the blog and Facebook page.

Over the past several months, John has not only contributed more invaluable photos and historic information, he has become a good friend.

He’s also a bit of living Laurel history, himself. As a young lad, (as he might say in his subtle British accent) he and his mother came to America in 1957, settling in Laurel in 1964. Not long thereafter, his mom met and wed Mr. Harry Fyffe, co-owner (with his brother Walter) of the legendary Fyffe’s Service Center that stood at Montgomery and 10th Streets for so many years. By his early teens, John was helping out behind the bar, eagerly pulling pints for the regulars!

Still living in Laurel, (he’s lived in the same modest home since childhood—going on 50 years) he’s an active civic booster for the community, and for the nearby Laurel Police Department in particular. He’s also a fine horn player, as well. That was him you may have seen carrying the big antique silver Sousaphone, marching along with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in this year’s Main Street Festival parade!

John has already shared with me a wealth of knowledge and photos of vintage Laurel—the likes of which I could not possibly have come across on my own. In fact, I’ve merely scratched the surface in terms of curating his vast contributions for Lost Laurel. Wait until you get a load of some of the treasures he’s shared from the 1960s and earlier—who knew Pal Jack’s was once a Bendix and Philco radio shop?!

Main Street in the 1940s… (Photo courtesy John Floyd II, from the collection of Harry Fyffe)

…and the same spot in 2007. (Photo: John Floyd II)

I can say with certainty that without John’s help, there wouldn’t be a Lost Laurel.

Much has happened in just the eight months since I’ve started this project. I’ve been interviewed by the Laurel Leader, and I’ve seen the Lost Laurel Facebook page grow to over 1200 fans. I’ve watched the blog soar to over 24,000 views. That was the good news. The bad news is that I’ve also seen more of the old Laurel fall—literally, in the case of the recent demolition of the blue American National Bank building. Also closing for good were my beloved Laurel Art Center, and even the Laurel Mall—something I never dreamed would’ve occurred in my lifetime, having grown up in its heyday.

Coincidentally, who walked over to the mall to photograph and share with Lost Laurel the very first photos of the “permanently closed for business” signs on the locked doors? John Floyd did.

Photos: John Floyd II

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news looming. This one isn’t about a longtime business closing, or an iconic building being razed. This one affects John personally; and for him, it could certainly be the toughest loss of all. He’s at risk of losing his home.

After missing a property tax deadline, I’ve learned that John’s home was actually SOLD at the county’s annual Tax Auction in May. He now has a very small redemption window in which to pay off the tax penalty, otherwise he’ll lose everything.

John would never ask for any kind of charity himself, so I’m going to pitch in and try to help. In fact, I’ve already gotten an earful from him for simply suggesting this little benefit idea. But I have to believe that at least a few of the folks who follow Lost Laurel will sympathize, and find it in their hearts to contribute whatever they can. And this is just too important to not at least try.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that John has been in a very tight financial spot for quite some time now. He has been without a car for nearly a decade, which not only limits his general mobility, but effectively ended his regular occupation as a musician with various orchestras and dance bands, jazz and ragtime bands, brass bands, and other vintage-style musical ensembles. It was a career he enjoyed for 26 years, working several thousand gigs overall. But without transportation, that work dried up years ago. Likewise, he’s been unable to sell his wares at firemen’s conventions and trade shows—something else that once regularly supplemented his pay.
His eBay sales have become his sole means of income, making him entirely dependent upon the computer for all of his meager earnings.

And unfortunately, his sales have dropped dramatically (by over 60%) in the current recession. An emergency veterinary bill for one of his many cats set him back a hefty sum earlier this year, and that only added to the larger problem—trying to meet the overdue property tax bill to the tune of nearly $3,300. And if it’s not paid by June 30th, the amount will increase to over $7,000 when Prince George’s County adds the 2012 tax bill (along with interest and penalties, legal and court costs, as well as “advertising costs” for the Tax Auction that has put his home at risk). Finally, if the full amount isn’t paid by July 31st, his redemption window slams shut and the new property owners will be free to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings. It’s a process that’s every bit as harsh as it sounds.

There’s some irony here, too. As a homeowner, John isn’t eligible for any kind of public assistance—not that he’d willingly accept it. If he were to be evicted, however, he’d likely be free to receive any number of benefits. He doesn’t want those handouts; he simply wants to pay off his debts and remain in the only home he’s known for the past 46 years. I’m hoping we can help him do that.

Unfortunately, P.G. County isn’t flexible in the least. Nor are they interested in John’s or anyone else’s problems. There’s no negotiating with them on the amounts or the due dates. It’s literally all or nothing.

Knowing that most of us are so routinely asked to contribute to various charities—we donate to our kids’ fundraisers; we contribute to relay races for cancer research; we send money to groups who build homes for homeless families in foreign countries—I realize that the bombardment of solicitations can be draining; which is why I very rarely ask for such favors. But I’m going to ask an important favor now—on behalf of a good friend in a time of need who has done so much for Lost Laurel.

If you would, kindly donate whatever you can to John Floyd. His email address is royalbluelimited@aol.com, and it is set up to receive PayPal payments. It could be a little or a lot—every dollar adds up. Most importantly, you will know that your contribution isn’t going to some anonymous organization. It’s going directly toward helping a fellow Laurelite in need—and a genuinely good bloke, as John would say. It’ll literally help him save his home.

To help kickstart this benefit, I’m also going to be offering a few special Lost Laurel incentive prizes to those who donate the most.
• All
contributions of $25 and over will receive a full-size, double-sided reproduction of a classic Jack Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub carryout menu from 1981.
• The first two contributions of $50 or more will receive an original 24″ x 36″ lushly illustrated poster map of Laurel from 1993.
• The first contribution of $100 or more will receive a limited edition Marian Quinn print of the iconic Cook’s Hardware building, matted and framed by the Laurel Art Center.
• And the first contribution of $250 or more will receive a framed 23″ x 30″ vintage 1990s illustration of Main Street businesses—which hung hidden for years in the Laurel Art Center.

These are but a few things that I can offer for what I would consider substantial donations, but I would strongly encourage everyone who reads this to consider sending any amount they can, no matter how small. It truly will help. Imagine if each one of our 1200+ Lost Laurel Facebook friends sent just a dollar or two—John’s crisis could be averted.

There are other ways that you can help, as well. Please visit John’s eBay shop (http://stores.ebay.com/blackpoolbertiesrailwayshop) and buy his stuff! If it’s not your proverbial cup of tea, perhaps you know someone who is a railroad buff, a firefighting enthusiast, and/or a brass band, vintage jazz, and big band music connoisseur—trust me, you’ll find something they’ll appreciate! It goes without saying that John’s eBay record is a spotless one—100% with over 4,350 positive feedbacks. He takes great pride and care in shipping his items quickly and securely, too, as I can attest.

Conversely, perhaps you have some items that you could donate to John’s store that HE may sell. That would also be a major help. Please message me, or feel free to contact John directly (royalbluelimited@aol.com) to make arrangements. Those who donate the amounts listed above can also request that I give their award items to John instead, so that he may sell them.

We’ve all come to accept that Laurel is an ever-changing landscape, and a far cry from the town we once knew. Businesses and residents alike have come and gone—some of their own accord, and others due to various hardships. This, however, is a uniquely tragic situation that I believe we can actually help prevent. Please join me and pitch in what you can. Let’s make sure Laurel doesn’t lose one of its truest citizens.

John Floyd II outside the Laurel Art Center in April, where he also went to photograph the closing of another Laurel icon.

Please donate via PayPal directly to royalbluelimited@aol.com

Many thanks!!

~ ®

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Laurel Art Center: Liquidation Part II

Matt Emery, with his parents, Joyce and Leo—founders of the Laurel Art Center. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Well, there’s good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news first.

The bad news is that the Laurel Art Center as we know it is indeed closing for sure. Last month’s two-day liquidation sale drew a record number of sale-seekers, artists, and nostalgia buffs—many of whom, like myself, fit that combined description.

The good news is that if you missed the chance to visit the store that one last time, don’t fret—there’s going to be one more opportunity after all:

For immediate release, 5/24/12
Contact:    Matt Emery, Laurel Art Center Representative

Laurel Art Center to Liquidate

Main Street’s Laurel Art Center will hold its final liquidation sale Memorial Day Weekend from 10:00-5:00 each day.

Last month, the store held a similar sale which drew over 1500 people to its eclectic inventory of framed artwork, picture frames, and art supplies.

There still remains thousands of pieces of artwork.  Framed artwork will be discounted 80%.  Unframed prints and posters will sell for $2.00 each.

There are also over 2,000 ready-made frames for sale in many sizes and styles.  All frames will be $4.00 each or buy any 8 frames for $20.00.

Art supplies are limited and will sell in lots only.  A typical lot will have about $200.00 worth of supplies and will sell for $20.00.  Racks, shelving, and furnishings are also being liquidated.

The store is owned by longtime Laurel residents, Leo & Joyce Emery.  The liquidation is being handled by their son, Matt.  Matt believes this upcoming sale presents even greater values than the last.  He also adds that he welcomes anyone to stop by even if they aren’t shopping and just want to say goodbye to a Laurel landmark.

Having stopped by the store last week, I can assure you—there’s a lot of great stuff left. Clearly, it takes more than one marathon weekend of sales to liquidate 10,000 square feet of legendary art supply awesomeness.

Coincidentally, I just discovered the following article today in a May, 1983 Laurel Leader supplement; it gives a nice overview of the Emery family’s retail legacy on Main Street, and an almost tangible account of this wonderful store. I thought I’d said my goodbyes, but knowing the doors will be open for one last time, how can I resist going back?

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Laurel Art Center: The Final Weekend

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.

Such a treat finally meeting John Floyd II, who just happened to be here at the same time!

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.

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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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