Donald Edwin Barton Sr. opened his Northeast Baltimore liquor store three weeks ago with a warning from a friend, Monte Brown: "I told him he had to be careful. The previous owner wore a bulletproof vest."
But Mr. Barton apparently thought the .25-caliber handgun he kept behind the counter at Northway Liquors offered enough protection from the armed robbers that area merchants say are all too common.
It wasn't. The 49-year-old Glenmore Avenue resident was fatally shot Thursday night when he exchanged gunfire with a man who robbed his store. Mr. Barton had chased the suspect outside. They argued, then shot at each other.
"The suspect fired once," said Margaret Mead, a criminal defense lawyer who was driving by when the gunfire erupted. "The victim fired four. Then the suspect fired the fatal shot."
The store in the 6600 block of Harford Road remained closed yesterday. A sign in one window said: "Under new management." Inside, the victim's gloves were on the counter. Receipt tape flowed from the cash register. The cash drawer remained open and empty.
Mr. Barton was no stranger to the neighborhood. He owned Barton's Tavern, next to the liquor store, for several years. He also ran a roofing company.
His wife, Peggy Barton, said her husband of nine months bought the liquor store with a partner because roofing work was becoming difficult.
"He wasn't getting any younger," Mrs. Barton said. "The opportunity came to own the liquor store. It was a little bit easier."
Mrs. Barton said she had left the store about 30 minutes before the 9 p.m. holdup to get some takeout food. She returned to find police surrounding the block. "It's just like a nightmare," she said.
Police were searching for the assailant. He was seen running away clutching his stomach, but police said there is no evidence to suggest he was wounded in the exchange of gunfire. He was described only as 6 feet tall and 150 pounds.
Mr. Barton, hit once in the chest, died about 9:40 p.m. at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. It was the first slaying recorded in Baltimore this year.
Yesterday, Mr. Brown, who lived above the liquor store, stood outside spraying white paint over the blood-stained sidewalk. "I'm sick of looking at this," he said. "The wrong person got shot."
L Merchants on Harford Road expressed fear they might be next.
"Most everybody has been been robbed around here except me," said Steve Serafis, who has run a barber shop two doors from the liquor store for 40 years. He said he closes at 5 p.m. every day. "That's why I've been lucky."
Richard R. Riha, who owns Riha's Hardware & Pools across the street from Northway Liquors, said he has been robbed at gunpoint twice in recent years.
"I don't own a gun," Mr. Riha said. "I don't plan on ever owning a gun. My customers say that I ought to have a gun. But my feeling is that if you're going to own a gun, get a machine gun so you don't miss."
Ms. Mead -- who represented a man sentenced three days ago to 35 years in prison for killing a Christmas tree salesman -- helped administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Mr. Barton.
"I keep thinking, if that man had not gone chasing after [the suspect] with a gun, he'd be in his business now as a robbery victim," Ms. Mead said. "But I understand that a lot of people are tired of being robbed."