A taste of the Old West lingers among the golden arches, muffler shops and car dealers south of the Baltimore border.
Two miles from the state Department of Motor Vehicles, sandwiched in the commercial strip lining Ritchie Highway, stands another famous Glen Burnie landmark. A pinto horse.
Perched on the porch roof of Carol's Western Apparel, the white statue symbolizes a bygone era, a time when horse farms flourished in North County.
"I used to pass 10 horses between here and Richard (Henry) Lee Elementary," recalls Bob Chance, who grew up in the building that now houses his store.
Since land values skyrocketed in the last decade, new housing developments have mushroomed across most ofthe remaining green pastures. A Burger King replaced the last stablein downtown Glen Burnie. And Chance can no longer ride in his neighborhood.
But after weathering the ups and downs in the Western trade, from the lull of the disco age to the Urban Cowboy rage, Chance has learned to change with the times.
He stopped carrying saddles and tack when he renovated his store last year. Instead of relying strictly on the equestrian set, he is jockeying for the Corona crowd. He expanded the boot department, introduced country dance dresses and aired clever ads during the "Lonesome Dove" miniseries.
The one thing Chance doesn't plan to change is the atmosphere in his country store. He built a reputation over 29 years for old-fashioned friendlinessand down-to-earth service. Customers are encouraged to linger and shoot the breeze. While trying on boots -- an intricate procedure if the fitting is done properly -- people gab with Chance and his 32-year-old daughter, Cindy, about everything from politics to their last trip to Texas.
"My love for this business is more the people than thehorses," explains Bob Chance, a soft-spoken 55-year-old with bright blue eyes. "It's the spirit of the West. It's more than a style or trend, it's a way of life."
When customers walk through the door, which is covered with stickers advertising accepted credit cards and Stetson hats, they "act like they're on vacation," Chance says.
Morethan one customer has left the engine of his horse trailer running and bounded in to buy a bridle -- only to stay a half-hour. The bridles may be gone, but the spirit remains.
"I think the feeling among people who are into the West is more friendly, more trusting, more open," he says. "It's not so fast-paced. It's not the almighty dollar."
He frequently heads to his adopted Western states -- Texas, Arizona and Colorado -- to stock up on the latest handmade boots, leather jackets and silver belt buckles. Each time he returns to Glen Burnie,he feels a renewed commitment to the Western code: "God, country, family and neighbors." He sports a pair of ostrich boots and a bolo tie, but the attire is only important as a statement of his values.
The second-oldest son in a family of seven, Chance learned the work ethic at an early age. He helped out in his father's upholstery store, located in front of the family home in the 61-year-old building at 7347 Ritchie Highway. He started his own business at age 13 by offeringto fix Venetian blinds for customers.
A strong believer in familyvalues, Chance said he was shaken by his divorce three years ago. Hedidn't even consider dropping his wife's name from the store sign. The two of them began the business in 1962, when Chance learned squaredancing and discovered the closest apparel stores were in Towson andWashington.
Chance considers his faithful customers part of an extended family. Some of them have been shopping for boots, hats and denim shirts at Carol's since they were children.
James Edelen, 32, of Curtis Bay, visited the store yesterday to buy his 1-year-old son,James Jr., his first pair of cowboy boots. The trip was nostalgic for Edelen, who used to go regularly to Carol's Western Apparel with his father to buy saddles.
Browsing through the belts hanging near the boot department, Edelen said the store has the same selection and the same feeling he remembered.
"You can be a regular John Wayne here," he says and chuckles.