Moments after the morning Metroliner whistled and sped through the town of Kensington, a police car and motorcycle rounded the bend onto Howard Avenue, followed by an open convertible carrying acting Gov. Blair Lee, III. A cheer went up from the crowd that had gathered and the annual Kensington Labor Day Parade and Festival was underway.
The agreeable weather lured hundred of people onto the streeets to celebrate the last holiday of summer, to whistle at the majorettes, and to shake hands with political candidates who worked the crowds in a last ditch effort to seek votes before the Sept. 12 primary elections. It was also a day to mourn the loss of a town institution, the Kensington General Store, which is closing after serving the area for nearly 100 years.
Most of the festivities were held on Howard Avenue, also known as Antique Row because of the several dozen antique stores located there. Dealers set up booths along the curb to sell old furniture, beer cans, jewelry, pottery and glassware. The people, dressed in shorts and T-shirts ("My Dad's the Greatest," "Teachers do it with class"), strolled among the booths, stopping in at the gas station to get soft drinks out of the machines.
The event, sponsored by the local Lions Club and the Kensington-Wheaton Jaycees, was strictly a grass roots efforts. Spirited marching units from Wheaton, Hyattsville and Savage, Md., pompom teams from Albert Einstein and Montgomery Blair High Schools, the Cub Scouts, the town's fire trucks, and kids riding self-decorated bikes were cheered as loudly as the fanciest floats in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Even the politicans, running for everything from the school board to the governor's office, were applauded. Campaign leaflets, posters and stickers were everywhere. Harry Hughes and Sam Bogley, running for governor and lieutenant governor, walked along the parade route a la Jimmy Carter, stopping every few yards to say hello and stuffing pamphlets into the hands of onlookers. Congressional candidate Mike [WORD ILLEGIBLE] gave in to the hot September sun and maneuvered through the crowd in his shirtsleeves, pumping scores of hands. School board candidate Eleanor Zappone smiled and passed out her fliers.
Current officeholders such as state senator Peg Schweinhaut, Montgomery County Council president Elizabeth Scull, and state comptroller Louis Goldstein joined Governor Lee, Kensington mayor Jayne Plank and other local dignitaires on the reviewing stand to watch the parade.
Perhaps the biggest sensation was the Maryland Militia a group of men, women and children dressed in Revolutionary War costumes and led by a fife and drum corps. The militiamen fired-their rifles three times, filing the air with the smell of gun-powder and making small children cry and dogs howl. The crowd jumped back onto the curb and even photographers and TV cameramen got out of the way when the unit set off a cannon, prompting one cynical onlooker to say that might be one way to clear out the politicians.
Following the parade, short speeches were made in praise of Kensington, and judging results were announced for the best bike decorations and drum and majorette units in the parade. Baton twirlers, drum majors and bike winners, including six-year-old Patti Bannan who rode her bike wearing a ballerina's tutu, came forward to receive their prizes.
The most moving moment came when Major Plank presented a special award to Sam Victor, proprietor of the Kensington General Store, in recognition of the large part the store has played in the life of the community.
Since the 1880s, the store has been the center of our life, the center of our children's life," Plank said, "and I'm sorry it won't be here for our children's children."
Victor called the award "the most humbling thing that has ever happened to me" and explained that he has tried to very hard to "get someone to take over (the store) but people don't want to do this sort of thing any more. We haven't given up yet and are still hoping (to find a new proprietor)." He added that he will "still be around," since he intends to keep a small part of the store open. Although he did not say which part, it is expected he will maintain his watch repair business.
The Kensington General Store opened in the 1880s on Howard Avenue. It was closed in the 1930s for two years, and reopened under the new ownership of Simon and Esther Novick, the parents of Sam Victor's wife. Mrs. Victor and her mother, now 86, said that in the early days when they took over the store they lived in rooms upstairs and next door. Sam Victor started "learning the ropes" from his father-in-law in the mid-40s, Mrs. Victor said, and finally took over in 1949.
The store, jammed from floor to ceiling with bolts of cloth, toys, kitchen utensils and hardware, always extended a line of credit to the children in Kensington and, as Plank recalled, it was common practice to get a free stick of candy.