Crime around Calhoun Street and Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore is so heavy that most store owners buzz customers through electronic doors and do business from behind bulletproof Plexiglas.
Alvin Ray was different. A 73-year-old liquor store owner who has been operating in the neighborhood for over two decades, Mr. Ray wore a .357-caliber Magnum in a holster on his hip to deter robberies.
Yesterday, the police say, Mr. Ray used that gun about 2:15 p.m., when two men -- one of them armed with a .32-caliber revolver -- went into the store in the 1400 block of Edmondson Avenue with apparent intentions of going up against the proprietor known to neighbors as "Captain Ray."
The result was deadly. According to police, Mr. Ray pulled his gun and fired four shots, killing one of the men and possibly wounding the second, who managed to escape.
Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman, said that based on the preliminary investigation, it appeared that no charges would be lodged against Mr. Ray.
Detective Richard L. James of the homicide unit said Mr. Ray was in his store just after 2 p.m. when two men entered and asked for six beers.
Detective James said that as Mr. Ray was turning away to get the beer, he saw that one of the two men had pulled a revolver. The store owner pulled his gun and dropped behind the counter; he fired four shots, Detective James said.
The gunman was hit high in the chest; he dropped his gun and made it out of the store and across the street before he collapsed and died. The police identified him as Louis Easter, 25, of the 1800 block of West Baltimore Street. The police said he had a lengthy record of narcotics, handgun and assault convictions.
The second man, who appeared to be in his 20s, is still being sought. The police say he may have been wounded.
In the aftermath of the shooting, neighbors expressed surprise that anyone might try to rob "Captain Ray," a popular, friendly man who was nevertheless known to almost everyone in the neighborhood as someone who was well-armed.
"I can't believe anyone would attempt to hold him up," said Timeka Harris of the 600 block of North Calhoun Street. "He's a really nice guy. I never heard anyone say anything bad about him."
Her mother, Virginia Harris, described the shooting as "unfortunate." Mr. Ray, she said "did what he had to do."
Steve Kang, who works a block away at a liquor store that has bulletproof glass and turntables to conduct business, said Mr. Ray was not the only businessman in the area to carry a gun.
Mr. Kang said that while he was on good terms with most of the people in the area, he felt safer carrying a handgun "in case something happens."
A neighborhood grocery owner, who asked not to be identified by name, said that he had been robbed twice in five years despite the fact that his store had bulletproof glass and an electronic buzzer on the front door.
During one of those robberies, the grocery store operator shot at the holdup man.
"It's very dangerous here. We are in business to survive, but we have a fear of getting killed all the time. That is bad," he said. "If they have a gun and aim at me, I have no choice [but to use my gun]. Otherwise, I am dead."