SYKESVILLE — One year ago, a group of Sykesville business owners got to talking about banding together to advertise the downtown stores in the local newspapers.
Out of those informal discussions came the Sykesville Business Association, now 22 members strong, growing and working not only to help themselves but the town in which they live and work.
"From that, we thought we'd get together to do more," said President Joy Baker. "Last spring, we sponsored the Flowers and Crafts Festival for the first time and we're having it again this year."
The SBA couldn't have picked a better time to finally get started after two years of failed attempts to form a working group.
Last year, the Sykesville Improvement Association folded for lack of active members, leaving a void that still has town officials unhappy with the lackof a general civic group.
"The SIA did a lot for the town that they didn't get enough credit for," said Town Manager James L. Schumacker. "They undertook some big projects, they did everything themselveswithout any funding from the town, and they did very well.
"We have other groups -- the Planning Commission and Historic PreservationCommission -- but they're almost biased (in that) they have a specific mission.
"The SIA kind of floated -- if there was a problem, they went after it. And they're still desperately needed to do other jobs in town." The SIA was started in 1974 and since then has sponsoredthe annual Fall Fest and then the Spring Fest, both of which have become traditions.
But in recent years, despite its success in putting on the festivals, Halloween and Christmas children's parties, pluswhatever else the town asks of it, the SIA found it increasingly difficult to get enough people to do the work necessary for such large-scale projects.
"We had to fight to get workers and it was just a few of us just about working ourselves to death," said Thelma Wimmer, longtime SIA secretary-treasurer.
Although the SIA already had voted to put on the Fall Fest last October, the group decided to disband. Upon breaking up, the SIA asked the SBA to take over and turned over the money it had taken in for Fall Fest booths to the business group.
"We're doing the festivals because it's tradition," Baker noted. "That was something that had to be continued, nobody had a choice in that."
The SBA already has started to work on the spring Flowersand Crafts Fest, scheduled for May 4. A committee has been chosen towork on concession stands, craft and floral vendors and entertainment, Baker said.
From that, the group will go into setting up the Fall Fest.
In between, the SBA focuses on smaller, more business-related projects, such as making up Merchant Directory brochures that are available at members' stores.
Baker said the group also is trying to bring buying power back downtown by letting the public know there is business in downtown Sykesville.
"Right now, we're working ongetting a sign put up by the Amoco station on Route 32 and Sandosky Road," Baker said. "It'll be a generic type sign saying what kinds ofbusinesses are in Sykesville."
The owner of the Amoco station is letting the group put the sign on his property, Baker said, and a company is working to help develop a sign to attract commuters along Route 32.
The SBA also had a contest among its members for the best Christmas decorations in an effort to make the town attractive for theholidays.
And last summer, when the B & O train excursion from Baltimore stopped in Sykesville, the SBA was there with 500 goody bags to hand out to passengers in another publicity effort.
"The day before the train came in, we cut down all the weeds around the train station so it wouldn't look like just another abandoned train station,"Baker said.
The SBA also is busy trying to promote new businessesand groups in the town, such as the Knights of Columbus, just recently opened on Main Street, and Baldwin's Restaurant, scheduled to openin March in the renovated train station.
Besides Baker, other SBAofficers are Dick Norris, vice president; Karon Deatherage, treasurer; Dr. Mike McEvoy, secretary; and Frank Davis, director.