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Richard M. Spencer Jr.: He outfitted square dancers, cowboys and wanna-bes

PINELLAS PARK — In the beginning, there was no fiberglass horse, no rattlesnake boots, no tack shop, no website, no customers placing orders from England and Australia.

There was just a basement room in the house occupied by Richard M. Spencer Jr., a Boston Navy Yard supervisor and part-time square-dance caller, and his wife, Gertrude, who made square-dance dresses.

In 1963, the Spencers launched a small business in their basement, selling clothes for square dancers. Five years later, when Mr. Spencer retired from his Navy Yard job, they moved their home and their business to Florida, to be near his sister, and opened a store.

And that's how Spencer's Western World landed in Pinellas Park. The store continued specializing in square-dance clothing until Mr. Spencer's sons persuaded him to broaden his stock to include all kinds of western wear, and it became a big success.

At that time, there still were a few cattle ranches left in Pinellas County. Although authentic cowboys soon faded away from Florida's most densely populated county, Mr. Spencer found new customers: European tourists to whom America meant the West, period, said his son, Mark.

Although Mr. Spencer was a serious entrepreneur, never let it be said that he took his business too seriously. On his birthday in 1974, Mr. Spencer's sons presented him with a 10-foot fiberglass horse, rearing up as if it were about to gallop off into the sunset. He hitched his horse to a prominent spot atop the 66th Street N store, and it's been a Pinellas Park landmark ever since.

"We have people who call here for directions and we tell them look for the big horse, and they say, 'Oh yeah, I know where that is,' " Mark Spencer said.

Over the years the paint job on Old Paint has converted it from an Appaloosa to a palomino with less natural shades like fluorescent orange thrown in for visibility's sake. At Christmas it's covered in twinkling lights.

The store's inventory soon expanded to included equipment for real horses — saddles, lariats and spurs. Shoppers who visited Mr. Spencer's store knew they could find hats and boots made from kangaroo, ostrich, even python skin.

Mr. Spencer, of course, was not just the owner of Spencer's Western World but also a customer, donning cowboy duds every day. Regular customers knew the founder would be wearing the exact same Wrangler shirt with the pocket snaps.

"He must have had 10 of them" in the same pattern, his son said. People who didn't know him as well would see him on successive days and ask, "Didn't you change your shirt?"

Twenty years ago Mr. Spencer retired again, turning over day-to-day operations to his sons and settling in Palm Harbor. But he would still show up in his namesake store sometimes, in between trips for boating and fishing. He loved both activities so much he bought houses on lakes in Georgia and Massachusetts, his son said.

Mr. Spencer outlived his brother and sister, two wives, even one of his three sons, Richard M. Spencer III. He died on Oct. 12 at age 92. On Monday his family buried him.

He had his boots on.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

>>BIOGRAPHY

Richard M. Spencer Jr.

Born: Aug. 4, 1918.

Died: Oct. 12, 2010.

Survivors: Two sons,

William (Miriam)

and Mark (Linda);

grandchildren, Jenna, Adam and Laurie;

and great-granddaughter ToriAnne.

Richard M. Spencer Jr.: He outfitted square dancers, cowboys and wanna-bes 10/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 7:26am]
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