Cornerstone businesses in Laurel pass into history

The “Going Out of Business” sign on the fiber glass cow on the corner of Main and C Streets marks the loss of yet another mom and pop institution. Bill Miles’ Laurel Meat Market, Old Town’s unique grocery store and butcher for the past 48 years, will close Aug. 31.

Next door — at A. M. Kroop and Sons on C Street — third-generation proprietor Randy Kroop is scrambling to liquidate manufacturing equipment from the boot and shoe specialty shop founded by her grandfather.

The loss of these adjacent landmark businesses, coincidently at the same time, surrenders pieces of Laurel’s identity to a bygone era; the owners are retiring without passing their family businesses on to future generations. Many townspeople, according to chatter on the “You Know You’re From Laurel When” and “City of Laurel” Facebook pages, are saddened to see them go.

Miles, however, takes a positive view of the changes. As the owner of the property at 347 Main St., he aims to rent it to another meat merchant after he retires. He says in Craig Moe that Laurel has the best mayor he’s seen in his near half-century on Main Street. Mayor Craig Moe, he said, has made funds available to assist Laurel businesses in the past and will work with “each and every” proprietor willing to do what’s needed to build viable businesses.

“Main Street’s not dead,” Miles said. “Main Street is coming back alive.”

Laurel Meat Market

On Aug. 23, the city of Laurel announced Laurel Meat Market’s closing on Facebook as the “end of an era,” eliciting almost 700 likes and more than 900 shares and 400 comments.

Among those commenting were grandmothers who shopped at the meat market with their grandchildren and grandchildren who went with their grandparents. Nancy James (who was Miles’ attorney for a while and had an office on Main Street before she retired) wrote about swiping Miles’ singing fish on display over the fish cooler as a gag.

“The next day I stopped by the meat market and Billy was all upset his fish was missing,” she wrote. “I prepared a ransom note and mailed it to the meat market. Billy then tried to get the Laurel police (as a joke) to arrest me for extortion.”

Miles was in his 20s when he opened Laurel Meat Market on Jan. 2, 1970 and he takes a lifetime of memories with him into retirement. He said the fish kidnapping was only “a middle of the road joke”; many friends and customers have stopped in to hug him goodbye. And there have been tears.

As a boy, William Logan, of Columbia, frequented the Meat Market daily when his mother worked across the street for relatives who (at the time) owned the Gallery.

“My sister and I practically grew up in your store…,” he wrote on the city of Laurel Facebook page. “Your establishment was a staple and KING of Laurel Main Street.”

Valerie Rhys also grew up in Laurel and loved going to the Laurel Meat Market. “I remember this cow from when I was a little girl — sad to see it will be gone,” she wrote.

The cow (named Ferdinand by Miles’ mother, Doris), along with a life-size fiberglass pig and an 8-foot fiberglass chicken will be relocated to Miles’ front yard in Burtonsville. He is also taking home a cardboard replica of the Meat Market crafted by Bond Mill Elementary School student John Simpson three years ago as a kindergartener.

Assigned to replicate an important building in Laurel, John chose Laurel Meat Market because his dad, Sonny Simpson, would buy him big bags of candy there after they played together in the creek “behind the old mill.”

“Laurel Meat Market has been a cornerstone of the Main Street neighborhood — if felt like something out of Sesame Street,” Simpson said. “My children learned to say please and thank you there.”

On Monday, Laurel Meat Market donated boxes of nonperishable items to the food pantry at Laurel Church of Christ on Cherry Lane.

“Laurel has been good to me; we’ve made a good living and a lot of good friends that we’ll miss,” Miles said.

A. M. Kroop and Sons

A. M. Kroop and Sons’ contribution to Laurel’s industrial history began in the 19th century on the other side of the world, where Kroop’s great grandfather handcrafted boots for the Russian army. He taught his son, Adolph Michael Kroop, who immigrated to New York in 1907 and then relocated to Maryland.

The family business appeared on Main Street in Laurel in 1925 and purchased the property at 26 C St. in the late 1950s.

High-profile customers have included race horse jockeys Henry Erickson, Eddie Arcaro, Willie Shoemaker, George Wolfe and William Passmore as well as music celebrities Carly Simon, Madonna and Leon Redbone.

Kroop said that although she is not trained in orthopedics, custom designing her product for people with problem feet has been the most satisfying part of the business for her.

At “You Know You’re From Laurel When,” Lilia Simpson of Laurel wrote, “Thank you, Randi, for the many years you helped our family. Gary was able to walk much better for years after his accident because of your craftsmanship. Our son, Sonny, has enjoyed the best footwear of his life.”

Sonny Simpson said his father had specialty boots made after he was injured serving in the military. One of the last things his father advised him before he died, he said, was to commission a pair of boots from Randy Kroop.

“I did, and they are the most comfortable boots I’ve ever owned,” he said.

Some of Kroop’s equipment dates back to 1916. Two years ago, when speculating about retiring, the artisan craftswoman said she would love to see her shop preserved as a museum.

But now that a father and son real estate developer out of D.C. has shown a strong interest in building a multi-story apartment building on her lot, Kroop said she hopes some of the antique machinery and artifacts she is selling online (M21858 at rasmus-acutionsappspot.com) will appeal to artists and perhaps become garden sculptures. An inspection date is set for Sept. 5.

Kroop has donated paper artifacts from the 1930s and 40s, along with photos and news stories, to the Laurel Historical Society and will maintain a small leather crafting studio in her home in Columbia.

Retiring, she said, is bittersweet.

“All my customers have been wonderful calling me, sad for them but happy for me,” Kroop said. “It’s a different way of life for a lot of industries, but there is still appreciation for products that are made in America with pride and artistry. Hopefully, Old Town will get a variety of new retail stores and artisans to draw more people in.”

The city couldn’t provide any information about what will follow the two establishments vacating the Arts District.

Christian Pulley, director, Department of Economic and Community Development, wrote in an email “The Laurel Meat Market has been a staple to the Laurel community for many decades and it will be hard to replace a business that has served so many.

“However, as the City continues to press forward to be a work, live and play destination, we welcome businesses that will be viable to Main Street and the City as a whole. The properties are zoned Commercial Village (CV), which allows for a variety of uses. If anyone is interested in more information, please contact the department of Economic and Community Development at ecd@laurel.md.us.”

Relentlessly, time marches on.

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