Back in the day: When everything was just a walk away
By Renee Domogauer
My granddaughter loves to explore in my attic, especially my old camera collection, with its 8mm movie projectors and 35mm film cameras, in their little leather cases. But when she discovered the boxes of old clothing, we moved her fascination level even higher. She declared a pair of chunky 1980s platform shoes and a mini-skirt “amazing … so retro.”
“Oh yes, I bought those right here in lovely downtown College Park,” I explained. Her two-word reply, “no way,” wasn’t surprising. Newcomers to College Park probably don’t realize that back in the day it was once quite the shopping destination.
Don’t believe that you could find fashionable clothing in College Park? In the 80s, we had Powers and Goode, a real clothing store, and shoppers came from far and wide to check out its full line of quality, stylish men’s and women’s clothing. The preppy era of the early 1900s was seeing a revival then, with blazers and woolen sweaters, along with Oxford shirts and lots of plaid everywhere. We also had Bootlegger, a trendy shoe shop, and Bikini Splash, where you could have your bathing suit altered for a perfect fit. Rerun, a vintage clothing store, drew high school and university students who were looking for fun garments from their parents’ generation — and maybe even the odd lava lamp. The Cedar Post was another favorite among young shoppers, with its great array of Levi’s jeans and Western wear. Michael Richards, who went to the University of Maryland (UMD) back then, remembers that the Post was the place to buy jeans; he remembers the great tuna sandwich he’d dig into at nearby Albrecht’s Pharmacy, too.
There was Paperworks, with its friendly staff of UMD students helping shoppers find just the right gift for a sorority sister — balloons in a box, candles, stuffed animals, greeting cards — it was a one-stop shop for all ages. Some of us may remember the knitting and yarn shop, too; how different our needs and sensibilities must have been back then.
And there’s more: College Park boasted a number of bookshops through the decades, too. Most memorable for me were the Little Professor, with its quirky, crowded aisles brimming with books, and the original Maryland Book Exchange, with its warren of rooms and quiet corners and shelves jammed with books. Patrons could be found plopped down on the floor, poring over piles of art books or biographies, or the latest best seller. And there were still others: We once had a Crown Books (ok, it’s been said that they loved money more than books, but it was a bookstore!) and more recently, Vertigo Books, owned by Bridget Warren and Todd Stewart, a local University Park couple. Vertigo’s staff was friendly and knowledgeable, and the store had a great children’s section, along with events for kids. And, though not in downtown College Park, the Old Bookstore, in nearby Riverdale, was an absolute favorite of used-books lovers. The shop opened in 1956 and for years and years was located in the funky, now-abandoned building along the tracks near the Riverdale Park Farmers Market. What a joy those shops brought to their patrons! The concept of books and coffee co-existing seemed just out of reach, but I always remember fondly when, for a short time, we did have both, with Starbucks and Vertigo operating at the same time and in the same shopping center. I once overheard an amazed passerby say, “Imagine this, a coffee shop AND a bookstore in our little college town.”
And we once had our very own hardware store — yes, College Park Hardware was right in the heart of town. A quick walk from home, there were bins of nails and bolts, shelves of tools, and even a glass-cutting service. Oh, and let me not forget — free advice from friendly, knowledgeable employees, too. How spoiled we were!
I found University Boutique indispensable. The beautiful shop was chock-full of unique and artsy (yet affordable) jewelry and trinkets, scarves and candles. And like the hardware store, it was so close by that there was no need to run elsewhere. They saved the day for me every June, as I searched for year-end gifts for my high school student helpers.
Former UMD athletes likely remember Stripe Three, which opened in the mid-80s and supplied equipment to many university teams, from lacrosse to fencing to rowing. And here’s the amazing thing: Unlike virtually all of the businesses I’ve mentioned, Stripe Three is still with us, meeting the sporting goods needs of residents and local athletes alike. With so many changes in the city’s retail landscape, we have to celebrate such a success.
I’m grateful to have lived in a time when shopping was about community and customers and service. That era may not have been as efficient as today’s soulless, on-line retail experience, but it had heart.
If you have memories to share of shopping, back in the day, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org