Fifty years ago, Lyn Carroll had an idea for a store that would cater to Potomac’s equestrian community.
“When I opened it, I was not at all sure that it would be a long-lasting thing. I thought it might not be successful,” Carroll said.
She and partner Anita Bogley went ahead anyway, and the two of them opened The Surrey on Bastille Day, July 14, 1953.
Whatever reservations the two women might have had were dispelled immediately upon opening. “The first day we opened, we sold everything but three fish plates,” Carroll said. “We were cleaned out.”
She and her partner went home that night and raided their attics and china cabinets to stock the store the next day, and Carroll hasn’t looked back since.
On July 14, The Surrey will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and Carroll, who still comes into the store almost every day, isn’t done yet. “I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to keep it going,” she said.
Bogley had the initial idea for the store. “Anita wanted the shop, but she didn’t have time to do anything,” Carroll said.
So she decided to help when she could. “I worked there when I wasn’t hunting,” Carroll said.
The store’s first home was behind and above Carroll’s husband’s realty business in what is now the Chevy Chase Bank Building at the corner of River and Falls roads. Customers would walk up a set of back stairs to get to the store. “I would still be over there if it had any kind of parking,” she said.
Initially, The Surrey’s parking was not just limited to cars. “I remember when you could ride up to the back of The Surrey and hitch your horse up,” said Potomac resident and columnist Cissy Finley Grant. “I wouldn’t want to try to ride down River Road now.”
The store moved to its present location, in the Potomac Village shopping center, in 1959.
“Everybody got market baskets from the Potomac supermarket and helped them move their stuff over,” said Potomac resident Elie Pisarra-Cain.
“There was a brigade of them,” said Grant, mother of Lyne Morgan. “Back in those days in Potomac, everybody helped everybody else.”
Business was still good in the new location when, in 1966, Carroll’s business partner passed away. Bogely’s share of the store was left to her three daughters, who Carroll has subsequently bought out.
ONE THING that has not changed is the smell. “There’s still that same mixture of saddle leather and potpourri,” said Grant, of the stores trademark atmosphere.
But not everyone has enjoyed that distinct odor.
Carroll related a story of The Surrey’s early days when a family came in with a young boy.
“He stamped his foot and said ‘Mother, what is that smell?’” Carroll said. “It was the leather.”
In addition to its line of horse and riding paraphernalia, the Surrey carries housewares, clothing and gift items. “Apparently, everyone that lived in Potomac needed candles,” Carroll said.
“A lot of people come in here just for the home stuff,” said Katie Lerner, 20, a Surrey employee.
One business decision that was not as successful was a line of children’s clothes. “I cut it out, there was too much competition,” Carroll said.
In the time the store has been open Carroll has been witness to dramatic changes in Potomac. “When I first opened, this was all just grasslands,” she said.
Carroll described a time when the corner was simply a crossroads, not a bustling shopping hub for thousands of people. “When I first started, there was nothing else,” she said.
She remembers a time when the Amoco station was a bandstand where the Potomac band would play on Tuesday nights. “There wasn’t as much traffic back then, but most of the traffic would come in,” Carroll said.
Mitch & Bill’s Exxon was a tavern that had a stagecoach shop, said Carroll. Something that was a necessity in a town as steeped in the horse culture as Potomac is.
“Children would ride their ponies to The Surrey and get what they needed,” Carroll said.
The horse world has changed also, and The Surrey has evolved along with the times.
“When I first opened, nobody had heard of dressage,” Carroll said. She described dressage as “a horse dancing.” The Surrey now carries equipment for dressage.
None of the changes upset her. “I think you’ve got to go forward,” she said. “You can’t go back and be a cunning, little shop.”
Just the opposite, Carroll plans to continue to expand her line and carry anything new in the horse line, along with gifts, books and clothing. “I have every intention of keeping it going and bringing in new things to bring in more customers and varied customers.”