Baltimore-area retailers are hoping freedom will ring the cash registers this Independence Day weekend.
Recent economic surveys have shown that consumer confidence is up and local economists said last week that the recession is over in Maryland.
So far, area merchants say they haven't seen such an upturn, but they're hopeful this weekend will bring lots of shoppers as proof of what they've been hearing from economists.
"The newspapers say consumers are showing more confidence, but I don't see it in the sales. People are still very laid-back and careful about what they are buying," said Evelyn Barrash, manager of the Arts/Objects store in The Gallery at Harbor place.
Ms. Barrash said she thinks that the harbor will be crowded this weekend, but more with people eager to see fireworks and take part in festivities than to shop. The food court merchants at the harbor, however, are expecting brisk sales.
Many retailers -- from clothing stores, to supermarkets, to electronic chains -- have been advertising July Fourth sales this week in newspa
pers and on radio and television. Marlo Furniture in Laurel has a banner outside its showroom touting, "4th of July. The biggest sale of the year."
"There's a lot of advertising going on. Certainly more than I would have anticipated," said Tom Saquella, head of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association in Annapolis. "I have heard that there has been a very modest increase in sales recently -- nothing dramatic. The retailers are hoping for strong sales over the holiday to help with the quarter."
In shopping centers along the highway to major tourist spots such as Ocean City, merchants say they are hopeful that large numbers of holiday travelers will be good for sales. But the merchants say a lot of their success will hinge on the weather.
"If it's overcast and rainy, people will cut their weekend short and that will not be good for business," said Sylvie Earle, the manager of Harve Bernard at Bay Bridge Market Place on U.S. 50.
In stores close to the city, bad weather could actually help sales, said Bill Glazer, president of Baltimore-based Gage Menswear.
"If it's sunny, people are going to go to the pool and forget about shopping," he said. Mr. Glazer, who is having a 50 to 70 percent off clearance sale this weekend, said he is hearing fewer complaints from his clientele about economic conditions.
Tammy Flanagan, assistant manager at Lady Leslie at Bay Bridge Market Place, said she is optimistic about business this weekend. Lady Leslie is offering 50 percent off at the store, which sells Evan Picone, Pendleton and Castleberry, to entice shoppers.
Many other retailers in and around Baltimore, including Hecht's, Circuit City and Mr. Goodbuys, are offering Independence Day sales.