FISHPAW'S LIQUORS, a ramshackle package store perched at the entrance to the Broadneck Peninsula, is an amazing symbol of the change that has swept Anne Arundel County since World War II -- because it has hardly changed at all.
Fishpaw's is a small, white, wood-frame building that appears to be held together by the crazy quilt of liquor signs that covers its exterior. The rickety structure looks jarring in an area where homes typically sell for $200,000 and double or triple that on the water. But Fishpaw's isn't out of place; it was simply there first.
When the store opened in Arnold in the early 1930s, Prohibition had just been repealed. With 55,000 residents in 1930, Anne Arundel was the sixth-largest jurisdiction in the state, smaller than Allegany and Washington counties in the Western Maryland mountains. Bill Fishpaw opened his shop to serve the farmers and watermen who lived along Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard, the country road that meandered from Baltimore through truck farm country to the sleepy state capital. Fishpaw's faced the two-lane road and the nearby tracks of the "bumble and amble," also known as the B&A or Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad. Between Arnold and Baltimore were two traffic signals.
In the late 1930s, when the four-lane Governor Ritchie Highway was completed, the store swung its entrance eastward to face the new road. Tree-lined Ritchie Highway was considered a scenic route then, before the onslaught of auto dealers and shopping centers. Fishpaw's supplied travelers headed to the county's bayside getaways with beer, bourbon, bait, ice and gasoline.
After World War II, suburban subdivisions began to blossom in the fields of corn, tomatoes and strawberries. Year-round residents began to supplant vacationers. Anne Arundel grew by an astonishing 70 percent from 1940 to 1960, twice as fast as the state overall. By the mid-1960s, the county's future as a bedroom community for Washington and Baltimore was firmly established, bolstered by large defense-related employers such as Westinghouse and the National Security Agency. Fishpaw's clientele became more permanent.
As the county shifted from rural to suburban, from weekend resort to year-round residential -- it's closing in on a half-million residents -- tastes and standards also changed. Fishpaw's practice of festooning its outside walls with hand-lettered signs ran afoul of the Greater Severna Park Council's desire to improve the appearance of the community. Fishpaw's prevailed in a legal fight a few years ago to continue its signage motif, which predated the 1952 creation of zoning in the county. "Without signs, it looks like you're not open," said Kim Lawson at the time, who owns the store now with her sister, Rachel.
While Fishpaw's exterior has stood firm against change, the stock inside increasingly reflects the fact that professionals, corporate managers and high-paid government workers now live where low-wage berry pickers and fishermen once called home. In addition to half-pints and six-packs, Fishpaw's carries wines from boutique vineyards and gourmet cheeses from Europe.
Live bait is still available, but you can only get bloodworms this time of year.
Pub Date: 1/10/98