It was 6 p.m., last Monday, closing time at the York Haberdasher, and Carl Lane, a white Washington businessman extraordinaire who for 30 years sold name-brand men's fashions in a black, working-class neighborhood along Georgia Avenue, left his store for the parking lot.
His store manager, Al Williams, was locking the front door when he heard a blast.It sounded like a firecracker, Williams recalled. Then he heard Lane's wife scream from the parking lot. Lane had been shot.
A black youth with a gun in his hand was standing over Lane when William Saunders, an off-duty District police detective, spotted him from across the street and gave chase.
"After about a half-block, I realized he was too fast. I mean, it didn't look like his feet were touching the ground," Saunders said.
"I yelled, 'Halt!' and I was ready to fire down on him, but some people got between us. I was so sorry. Mr. Lane sold me my first suit. My grandmother had sent me over there so I could graduate from Banneker Junior High in style."
Lane, 64, had been critically wounded.The youth had apparently walked up behind him as he placed a briefcase into the trunk of his car, put a gun to the back of his head and, for no apparent reason, pulled the trigger. Lane was taken to the Washington Hospital Center, and there he lives on a life-support system.
Everyone associated with Lane is puzzled. Family members, who agreed to be interviewed yesterday, wonder why anyone would have done this.He carried no money, they said. A Wells Fargo armored truck picked that up every day. His briefcase was a gift, and he carried it mainly for sentimental reasons. Few men -- black or white -- were as highly regarded around town.
"He loved people and the ones he loved the most were black people," said Williams, a black who has worked 17 years for Lane."When the store burned down during the riots [in 1968], I urged him to move out, but he insisted on rebuilding in the same spot."
Lane opened up the York Harberdasher, at 3608 Georgia Ave., in 1946. Gifted with a magnetic personality and experience as a sewing machine operator in the Philadelphia garment district, he became an instant success.
The neighborhood was mostly white then, but when it turned black during the 1950s, he adapted by pioneering broad extensions of credit to blacks.
For many here, Lane made "lay-away" what it is today.
He hired Stanley Holmes in 1951, made him the city's first black manager of a men's store and shared with him trade secrets learned as a graduate of the Wharton School of Business.
During the years, the neighborhood continued to change. New town houses and condominiums were cropping up, and old rat infested buildings were being torn down. Poor black families were being forced to either double up or flee the city.
And the kinds of businesses that were moving in along Georgia Avenue where others had been burned out were not the most desired.
Just up from York's in the Foxy Playground, for example, a disco that features three nude girls performing at once. "They do everything but make love," said city police officer W. V. Brown. "The kids around there deal in everything from pot to you name it. They learn it from the adults."
Brown, who walks a beat that includes Lane's haberdashery, shakes his head. There have been three shootings in his area during the last six months. For the first nine months of 1979 in the city, aggravated assaults -- of the nature inflicted on Lane -- were up 19 percent, police report.
"It used to be when robbery was not the motive, then it was drugs or gambling,' said Brown. "Now it's getting strange out here. A lot of young black dudes will stick up a white guy before they will blacks now. It didn't used to be like that. The problem is that a white guy will usually buck [resist]."
It was Lane's nature to hang tough. As a teen-ager growing up in Philadelphia, he worked as a golf caddie and later as a food huckster, hauling baskets of fruit on his shoulders through alleys and backstreets. When he was 14, he got his first paycheck and bought his mother a pocketbook, which he gave her with a dollar in it.
In high school, during the early 30s, he was a long distance runner in the Pennsylvania relays and claimed to have run against Jessie Owens. "He never told me who won," recalled his brother, Amor Lane, a government engineer.
"He always said he wanted to go into business someday," Amor Lane said. He enrolled at Wharton in the evening division and, to earn money, went to work in a clothing factory on a sewing machine side-by-side with his father, who relatives say idolized him.
"Carl may have been a great sewer," Amor Lane recalled. "I remember the rumors that the boss would become disgruntled, but my father would come to Carl's rescue and redo his work."
Lane served in the Army from 1942 to 1946 and was stationed during the last months in Washington and assigned to guard the Capitol as a military policeman.
Family members say he was fond of showing pictures of himself on the Capitol steps with a rifle over his shoulder. "As if to say the protection of Congress was in his hands, at least for the moment," Amor Lane said.
He stayed in Washington and soon married a woman he had met at a concert in Philadelphia. He had opened the haberdashery a year before he left the Army and would close at 9 p.m. and drive to Pennsylvania to meet her.
Lane became a sports fanatic and avidly supported the Redskins and the former Washington Senators baseball team. Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle frequently invited him to functions at the Touchdown Club here.
Sports helped make his store even more famous because he gave prizes to Redskins and Bullets players of the week. They could come in and get a sports coat on the house. Since Lane specialized in unusual fits anyway, many sports figures did their regular shopping at York's.
After the 1968 riots, he could have retired on the insurance money. The F. W. Woolworth Co. and the Peoples Drug stores that were also burned did not return. Many of the bakers and food markets closed and reopened elsewhere.
"I can visualize sitting at home with him watching the store burn that night," recalled his wife Doris. "He just watched and said, 'We're going back.' There was never a suggestion of moving. He could never step back or turn his back on something. He knew the loyalty of his customers and the dedication of his employes."
With the help of his wife of 33 years, Lane rebuilt the store in what had been an American Security Bank building. Everyday at noon, she would show up with some lunch for him or just a few kind words.
Late yesterday, doctors had indicated to Mrs. Lane and her daughter, Diane, 28, that the outlook for Carl Lane was not good. His brain had died and now life-support systems were keeping him alive, according to the doctors.
The family had not expected him to survive the night he was shot, but doctors kept coming back to the waiting room.
"It was his heart,' Diane recalled. "It just keeps on going."
And that is enough for Doris Lane. "My feelings are like his," she said.
"I will not turn my back. We work together."