Saying good-bye isn't easy for Eugene Laskowski Sr., Eugene Laskowski Jr., Carol Laskowski, Margaret Brown or Leroy Spinner. At the end of this month, they will shut the doors for good on a store that has become a tradition for many in this area.
After Aug. 31, customers will no longer be able to stop at Straight from the Crate to pick up their herbs, produce and health-food items. After more than 25 years in the Penn Daw Shopping Center, the Laskowskis have decided to consolidate their two stores, and focus their attention on LD Green Grocer in Forestville, Md.
The decision did not come easy. In a letter to customers, Eugene Sr. wrote, "Your loyalty and patronage has not only helped put many plates of food on my family's dinner table, but more recently, it has helped us overcome some financial setbacks with our sister store in Maryland. About two years ago, I found out about these difficulties and was forced to split my time between stores. My crew, as it has always done, rose to meet the challenge, and we were able to keep both stores running.
"However, after evaluating the situation and taking my crew's health and lifestyle into consideration, we have decided to give notice and close our doors for good..."
LASKOWSKI MAKES a point of saying that that they are not being forced out of their location. Although they have been operating on a month-to-month lease for the past couple of years, the agreement was done partly to help out the Laskowskis when they ran into trouble with the other store. Considering that Combined Properties is the landlord for the Haft Family, owner of Crown Books and Dart Group, it might appear that they were caught up in that whole reorganization, but that's not the case.
"The landlord has been very good to us," Laskowski said. "People want to blame somebody, but there's nobody to blame."
Susan Blandsfield is going to miss shopping at The Crate.
"I come here to buy herbs that you can't get at other places, plus they have nice service. It's too bad, we were shocked. I just don't know why they're moving," she said. "If it's not too far, we may go over the bridge [Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Maryland.].”
Several customers have already been over to the new store in Forestville. Laskowski was surprised, as he didn't expect any of his current customers to drive into Maryland.
"Already we've seen 15-20 people from here, and those are ones that I know of," he said.
One of the customers who has been to the new store is one who has been shopping regularly at The Crate for years. He said, "This is on my way home from work, and I buy all my groceries here."
He will miss Margaret Brown, who's been a cashier for the past four years; she will not make the move to Maryland but is hoping that she will get hired by Shoppers Food Warehouse.
Already gone are cashiers Peggy Shipman and Dee Bouffard, two of the oldest employees. Shipman worked at The Crate for 22 years and is now in Mechanicsville, Md. Bouffard, who worked at The Crate for 16 years, left three years ago to go work at Hollin Hall Pastry Shop.
"It was 16 years to the day, but it was time for a change," said Bouffard. "I'll always be part of the establishment. The Crate was my family; we all took care of each other."
One of the best things that happened to Bouffard at The Crate was that she met her fiancé there. She and George Bodkin III (Buddy) will marry next July. He was one of her customers, and she said, "We just kind of became friends."
SPINNER WILL MAKE the move with the Laskowskis; he has been with Eugene Sr. since before they opened The Crate. Laskowski said that he and Spinner have been together over 40 years. "We both worked for Co-Op Supermarkets," said Laskowski, who was originally a produce manager for the co-op. He said that they started out selling peaches in front of the building that now houses their store. Empty at the time, the co-op used it as a place for their members to sell things. After seeing the success of the peach sales, Laskowski's boss said, "This is what we need." Laskowski and his partner, Bill Darby, decided to open this location, and then opened the other one in Maryland.
"We decided that we wanted to have the largest supply of produce," said Laskowski. Early on, their motto was, "If it grows, we got it."
As the major chains caught on to the idea that having this ample supply of produce was a good idea, The Crate had to come up with another idea to stay ahead of the game. Customers started asking for different natural food products, so the health food store evolved.
"We turned into a gutsy natural food superstore. We did it before it was popular," said Laskowski.
The emergence of Fresh Fields stores just helped them, as it reinforced the concept that buying and eating healthy foods is a good idea. Not that Laskowski and his son have bought into the idea.
"I used to say, 'If we like it, it wouldn't sell; if we didn't like it, it would sell,'" said Laskowksi.
He remembers the evolution in his letter, remarking," The store itself has changed so much. When we first started out, we were the corner shop, a truly simple Mom & Pop whole foods store. Then we got fancy and remodeled to make more room for the ever-growing popularity of health food products in the mainstream."
"I will miss coming here, it's like home," said Spinner. "I've worked seven days a week. People have had tears in their eyes as they said goodbye."
Well-known to customers for his smile and ready assistance, he will be missed by customers like Betsy Renner. "I've been coming here since it opened," she said.
LD Green Grocer is located at 3430 Donnell Drive, Forestville, Md.; it can be reached at 301-735-2310.