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Cowboys, friends parting ways

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 13, 2007


Armstrong's Western Trend was started by Lyle and Joan Armstrong. Daughters Dawn Stephens, left, and Beverly Passe helped out. Passe later bought the business. After 30 years, the store will close Dec. 22.
photo
[James Borchuck | Times]
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KENNETH CITY - Beverly Passe traces the business according to popular culture.

"There was Urban Cowboy, and then the Garth Brooks era," said the owner of Armstrong's Western Trend clothing store at 6051 54th Ave. N. "And then the flaming shirt with Brooks and Dunn. That was so hot, we said it was going to look like one big fire during the line dance at Joyland."

Passe and family helped feed, if not set, the trends as cowboy culture grew over the past 30 years, but now their store is closing. Shelves and racks once brimming with boots and Stetsons have given way to open space.

"You don't know how hard it is for me to look at this. It's like a ghost town.," said Passe, daughter of founders Lyle and Joan Armstrong. They started the business in 1977 in a tiny rented building on a dirt road just blocks away. Pasture still surrounded the area, but cowboy chic was looming in the wider culture.

After the 1980 John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy brought country to the city, business grew and in 1983, the Armstrongs built the current building and added their name to what had been Western Trend.

"We went from the end of the alphabet to the beginning," said Lyle Armstrong, who was an arborist and dairy farmer in New Jersey before he moved to Pinellas County in 1954.

Others stores followed, but few remain, Passe says. She owes Armstrong's longevity to its authenticity.

"My vision was not to be hokey," said Passe, who was the family's buyer. She later bought the store from her parents.

"They had good taste, not that crazy Western," said Betty Swan, who has lived in the area almost as long as the store has been open, but started going there only after marrying a musician, Ray, who shops Armstrong's for the clothes he wears with his band, Cross Creek.

Customers also remember the down-home flavor.

"They've been the most wonderful people to deal with," said Dale Stillwagon, who grew up roping and riding on his family's 200 acres near what is now the intersection of Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard.

Swan said: "It's like losing your neighbor."

The Armstrongs thought about selling the business but didn't want to take the chance a buyer might sully their good name. Instead, they'll close on Dec. 22, sell the property and move on to other pastimes.

In the meantime, they'll sell, reminisce and laugh about things like Western wear trends over 30 years. People bought heavy leather dusters, even though there is no appropriate Florida weather for them. Some bought spurs.

"We are an advanced society, but people want spurs," Dawn Stephens, Beverly's sister, said with a chuckle.

When Achy Breaky Heart was a hit, the store sold dozens of pairs of boots to 70-year-old men. "They were line dancing at the senior home, that's for sure," Passe said.

Dolores Stike, a former stockbroker, is nostalgic: "Half their merchandise is in my house. My husband still has the first pair of boots he bought there 30 years ago. They're going to leave a big hole in our lives."

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

[Last modified December 12, 2007, 21:19:55]


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