By Bob Reilly

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed it when reporters and comedians took their cameras and microphones to the street and interviewed people. The questions are typically the same for each person interviewed, but the responses are often all over the map. Unpredictable and spontaneous.

These “People on the Street” segments are often funny and entertaining. We get a chance to see more of ourselves in the process.

So, during the Main Street Festival this year, and in the following weeks, I handed people a brief survey to fill out if they are Laurel residents or have businesses in Laurel. As people stopped by my booth, I interviewed them on the spot or asked them to complete the survey. I did the same thing after the festival throughout the month of June with people and businesses around town. All the responses are from the survey, phone, text messages and face-to-face interviews.

The survey focused on the following:

Name? Age? How many years have you been living in Laurel? Do you own a business or work in Laurel? Name of the business? What do you like about living in Laurel? What would you like to see improved?

I discovered some common themes in the process of my interviews and a few surprises along the way.

Deborah Johnson, who is in her 60s, has been living in Laurel for 29 years. She said, “I like the diversity in Laurel which covers four counties. Being right between DC and Baltimore is great because you can access everything here.”

Tabitha Clark, 51, is the owner of More Than Java Café, on Main Street. She and her husband, Ronnie, serve up a creative menu, including fresh-squeezed juices, jerk chicken with waffles, veggie burritos, jerk chicken and egg breakfast sandwiches, cakes and pies and pastries to name a few. There is also an array of teas, coffees and health-oriented specialties in the shop.

The beat of Laurel July

“The growing diversity within the community is a big plus,” Tabitha Clark said. “Laurel is a very family-friendly place. I feel adding more businesses on Main Street with a focus on small business commerce would be a good thing.”

Clemon Cunningham, 47, has been living in Laurel since 2005. She said, “I love the people, culture and community. I would like to see road improvements, repairing potholes and fixing up some of the old, dilapidated buildings.”

Max Mazzioti, 80, is the co-owner of Pasta Plus, a family-owned and operated business for over 40 years. It has scaled down in the past year, with a limited menu offering carryout from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. People can go online ( and order from Thursday to Monday evening and pick up on Wednesday.. Mazzioti said, “Our clientele are very fine people. From the day we opened in 1983, we felt like we were accepted as part of the local community. We have made many lifelong friends.”

Ruth Walls, 68, is president of the Patrons for Peace Project inc., a local community nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the homeless, marginalized people and individuals seeking mental health services. A 41-year resident of Laurel, she said, “I like living on an eclectic street and I love the small-town atmosphere.” As far as Laurel’s improvements, she told me, “I would like to see more focus on green space with tree planting and native plants. I believe there should be increased sensitivity to the health of the Patuxent River and more public art.”

Nadol Hismeh, 41,  is the owner-operator of the popular Mediterranean/Italian Main Street restaurant, Olive on Main. He has been in Laurel for 13 years. Hismeh commented, “There is a strong community aspect here with the great support from local people for the business. Laurel has a small town feel. I would have to say, overall, things are pretty good here in Laurel.”

Alphonso Hampson, 57, has been living in Laurel for eight years. “I like that Laurel is centrally located and has lots of diversity and green space. My biggest gripe is with many of the poor drivers on the road. They lack manners and skill.”

Vince Schembari and his team of associates at Olde Town Laurel Dental can help with all your family’s dentistry needs. Schembari  is 60 years young and is a 35-year Laurel resident. He noted, “I love the small-town community with a huge personality. I would like more clean-up attention given to Route 1 and the Main Street area.”

Carol Worsham, 70, and her husband, Don, 76, have lived in Laurel for 38 years. Carol told me, “Laurel has a great hometown spirit. It is convenient for everything. Nice people here and lots of fun things to do.” Don shared some ideas for improvement. “We need better housing development controls, so the population doesn’t outpace infrastructure capability. Also, the remains of the old California Inn building at the intersection of Route 1 and Whiskey Bottom Road is an eyesore,” he said.

Carl Dewalt, 67, is a 38-year neighbor here in Laurel. “I like the small, friendly community spirit here. I love the great people of Laurel and how they care for each other.” He added, “I don’t appreciate that the city is a cut-through for many commuters that often speed through our neighborhoods. I would give a big thumbs up for more speed bumps and speed cameras to address this safety issue.”

Well, from what I’m hearing out here, Laurel sounds like a pretty good place, don’t you think? 

My sincere thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on our city.

Wishing all of you a safe, fun and memorable summer!