Please introduce yourself.
I’m Ken Lubel.
How did you end up in Silver Spring?
My father opened [Tires of Silver Spring] in 1950.
Tell me about Tires of Silver Spring.
My father was a queer duck. For some reason my father was interested in Central America. He somehow got to Cuba and some other places and at the same time learned about tires. He was in the army during the Second World War and came back to Washington. I’m not sure why to Washington because he was from Connecticut. He worked for a tire company downtown and decided he wanted to have his own and opened this place in ‘50. In ‘50 in Wheaton there were dirt roads, still. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on at that time. Crisfield’s opened in ‘45, we opened in ‘50. Ever hear of Montgomery Donuts? They started over there. In about ‘50 this bridge down here [the Metro tracks over Georgia] was a trestle, and they took it down and they made this underpass that you see now. Even back then the street was very wide. People used to park the slanted way.
There’s pictures in that case behind some of the other pictures. When we first opened up here, he leased this building. In here there was a laundry. He opened up the tire store and did a lot of truck service. He’d go out on the road and fix flat tires for trucks. For some reason, the laundry moved. The donut shop was getting bigger; they were actually delivering back then. They moved into here, and this whole space was the donut shop. You can still see the burned ceiling if I take those tiles down. They were in here for about ten years while they built this building across the street, then they moved there where the Salon Zoma is. Then they got real big. They were selling to all the schools. Back then, kids could eat donuts. Now they can only eat McDonalds. The truth is amazing, isn’t it? You got the wife of the President of the United States won’t let anybody eat donuts or McDonalds, except her husband tells everyone they can smoke pot. Where’s the reality in all this? It’s a riot. Anyway, so [my father] opened this up, and he actually expanded later on. He had a big warehouse in another part of town and a couple more stores and eventually it just turned back into just this store. He died in ‘87 and I’ve been doing this since.
What do you love about Silver Spring?
Silver Spring is way bigger than most people realize. Silver Spring actually went all the way to Columbia, even though it was in another county, people would still call it Silver Spring. Silver Spring is huge. It encompasses all kinds of stuff. Wheaton was Silver Spring. Then they squashed it down. Just like the neighborhood across from Parkway Deli, that’s now “Chevy Chase”, and people’s homes went up fifteen grand. That’s just what we do. Silver Spring is a small area and it’s been up and down, up and down, but Silver Spring is a cozy little place.
If I had my druthers, I’d probably live in Murfreesboro. It’s like they say about New York. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. This is the new New York, this type of area. To say it’s multi-ethnic is a joke. You don’t see two people the same race or anything at the same time. Everything’s here. You’ve got guys here from Babylonia, Brazil, and Bangkok all in the same time and the same hour. It’s what makes it so interesting. We’ve got everything here.
What do you dislike about Silver Spring?
I don’t like that Montgomery County disregards the lower half of Silver Spring, like we don’t exist. That’s a big deal. I don’t like that they take the stupid Thanksgiving Parade and take it up where we can’t see it. They dis us every year. They’ll say it’s because of the balloons. I say cowpucky. They can pick the balloons up after they go under the bridge. While the bands are changing the page on their music for the trumpeters they can have a guy that can hold the balloons up.
What would make Silver Spring a better place?
Silver Spring is a walkabout town. The Central Business District is only about 8 blocks. In New York City, there’s a subway every 7 blocks, so it’s not what you call a big walk. What would really make it a better place is if they made it easier to cross the metro tracks at any end of Silver Spring. With these new high rises they’re building up here, they should have built access over the tracks or under the tracks. That would really open the town up. You either gotta go under the tracks at the Metro station or you gotta come all the way up here. What they really should have done is have two train stops. They should have had one here next to the old train station and just had a promenade that ran all the way down to the other station.
There’s a divide and it’s bad. It shouldn’t be there. They could have made a 30, 40 or 50 foot walkway under the Metro tracks when they put the tracks in. It was beyond them. That was before Montgomery County wanted to control everything, so you could have got a real construction company to make it, unlike the Metro station that they f**cked up.
There’s always a lot of things to complain about. They’re building a new library. You know where the library’s going to be? The top three floors. Pyramid Atlantic is going to have the bottom two floors. None of us who have been around for a while know why they’re closing the old library in the first place. And there will be no parking in Silver Spring. That’s a good thing for those that want to be urbanites. Which they’re hurting by not doing some of these things that I’ve said to them. That’s why they’ve widened all the street intersections. They want Silver Spring to be a walking place. If they can figure out how to do that, they can cut the traffic off Georgia Avenue, so they don’t have all the commuter traffic going up and down Georgia Avenue. You have three main routes in Silver Spring. You have East West Highway, you have Georgia Avenue and you have 16th Street. You wonder where all the businesses are going to go that are up on 16th Street. They’re going to get thrown out of there because of the wonderful Purple Line. I’m sure there are people that tell you they can’t wait for it. There are a lot of people that don’t want it. But for people that like to be close knit and don’t want to stay home a lot and want a lot of things to do, there’s new stuff all the time. The park at Ellsworth has a skating rink inside it. I know it’s there. I haven’t been in it; I can’t skate. But these younger people seem to like what’s going on. There’s a lot of older people that like this kind of stuff, too.
Anything that I didn’t bring up, or anything that should be mentioned?
It’s funny. Look at Chuck Levin’s in Wheaton. I understand that they’re struggling. Maybe because all the older people are dying off. There’s nothing like that in Silver Spring. There’s no music store. There’s a sheet music store which is one of what I call The Original Five, and I’m sure there’s more. Original five being, old time original, same family owned, which would be Crisfield’s first, me second, and then in a short period of time you got Dale Music, Bell Flowers – he’s closed retail – and Atlantic Guns. All those were brought here to downtown to Silver Spring in like ‘52 or ‘53. That’s still same family owned. I’m sure there’s others that I don’t know about.
A lot of these questions should be asked to the younger people who have been living here for a year or three. There’s a lot of them. Why did they move to Silver Spring? Was it just for price? Cheaper than Bethesda? The people that are walking around Silver Spring, the people that live in the apartments, it’s inconvenient as hell for them to shop at Safeway and Giant. I live in Olney. I’ve got 5 grocery stores within 5 blocks. That’s what you call selection. They can’t do that. A lot of these newer kids don’t have cars. A lot don’t have automobiles and are using Zipcars and the new zip bicycles. I don’t know what the hell you call those things in the neighborhoods. I’ve only seen a couple places where they have them.