BEL AIR -- What discounts can't do to boost sales in this recessionary economy, perhaps Elvis can.
James Newsome Sr., a 25-year-old tree trimmer from Aberdeen, took a day off from work yesterday to catch the opening day of the Elvis Presley Museum on Tour, which is on display through Saturday at Harford Mall.
After he finished examining a sampling of authentic Elvis belts, sunglasses and photos, he went into K&K and bought his son James Jr. a toy. Last year, at the first annual Elvis museum display at Harford Mall, Mr. Newsome decided to buy a $35 pair of Reeboks from the Foot Locker there.
"I'm here anyway; I might as well buy something," he said.
For Harford Mall, it's Elvis Presley now. But malls across Maryland and the nation are finding that mall promotions of all kinds are playing a bigger and bigger role in getting customers to shop at their stores, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
With heated competition among malls' thinning crowds of shoppers and concerns about war and a possibly lengthy recession keeping many would-be buyers out of malls altogether, developers are thinking up new schemes designed to get consumers in.
Area malls have been touting everything from blood drives to storytelling for children in recent weeks.
"Maryland is only now catching up on the trend of mall promotions. I started seeing it a lot in the Christmas of '89, and it has increased dramatically since then," said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.
Security Square Mall recently announced seven promotions for February, including a United Cerebral Palsy national telethon and a senior citizens appreciation day.
Hunt Valley Mall is hosting a fashion show at its Sir Walter Raleigh Inn restaurant next month featuring accessories for professional wardrobes.
"It's a more competitive environment now," said F. Patrick Hughes, president of Linthicum-based BTR Realty, which owns Harford Mall. Mr. Hughes dreamed up the Elvis promotion -- with Mike El, a local Elvis look-alike and sing-alike -- last January.
Last year's Elvis promotion packed the mall and boosted sales, he said, adding, "If you get people in there, they are going to make a purchase."
Bruce Sotland, owner of Ellen's Hallmark, said sales were "very heavy" at his card and gift shop during the Elvis promotion and that his sales are good during most of the promotions at the mall, which include craft shows and energy shows.
A study by San Diego-based Very Special Events, which has helped with promotions at Reisterstown, Hunt Valley and White Marsh malls, indicates that baby- and children-oriented events are the most popular mall promotions.