Hamlet Stores Woo Neighborhood Customers

November 10, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

One of the first things customers see when they walk into Brewer's Market in Silver Run is a bulletin board crammed with business cards and notices.

"We're the center for lost pets," owner Doris Brewer said.

She, her husband, Guy, and son Doug also sell fresh coffee, stamps and special cuts of meat and offer buy-one-get-one-free deals and videos for rent.

"We perform a lot of services that are not necessarily lucrative" but are customer-oriented, Doris said. "We try to provide services (customers) need so they can stay local."

Peggy Smalley, who lives in the hamlet along Route 97 near the Pennsylvania line, dashed into Brewer's one afternoon late last week while her baby slept in the car. She also shops for groceries in Westminster, but said Brewer's is convenient.

"It's nice to support local business. They know you -- that's nice," she said.

The Brewers, both 51, and other business owners in the county's smallest burgs say they are making money in this recession, but are working harder for it.

Convenience and a base of loyal customers have insulated these small operations somewhat from the recession's grip, but because shoppers are moreprice-conscious than ever, owners say they have made changes.

Carolyn Smith, 44, owner of the Union Mills General Store, said she found a new distributor for milk to keep the price low. She has to pick up the milk, instead of having it delivered, but is able to sell a gallon for 30 to 40 cents less than competitors. She now sells three times more milk than she did last year.

"Loyal customers are almost athing of the past," said her husband, Richard. "We have a few who are die-hard. Now, people tend to price shop, and you can't really blame them."

The low milk price is advertised on a small wooden sign hanging outside the North Carroll establishment that occupies one-halfof a house and has a front porch. The sign draws people in, where they sometimes buy bread, other groceries or a sandwich from the carryout menu, said Carolyn, the store's owner for 14 years.

Business has been up 10 percent to 15 percent in the last three months compared to the beginning of the year, said Richard, 40.

"We don't cut corners, even in recessionary times," he said.

People are watching their budgets and try to save gas by shopping in the neighborhood instead of driving to a larger store in Westminster, said Carolyn.

HelenUtz, executive director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said, "If they (customers) can get comparable goods at comparable prices, they'll shop in their home town, mainly because they know everybody, and the attitude is 'I'll buy from you, and you'll buy from me.' "

Carolyn and Mark Cherry, who run two businesses from their Marston home -- which they've dubbed "the mall in Marston" -- said they barter for services.

"We have a plumber -- we gave him two rocking chairs for a shower," said Carolyn, 32.

She runs Customs Last Stand, a shop offering imported gifts from Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. Mark,34, makes furniture from driftwood and twigs.

"People aren't being frivolous," Carolyn said.

And because the couple's products aren't necessities, their business near New Windsor is suffering.

Marksaid of his handmade furniture, "Everybody loves it, but they say 'Maybe next year.' "

One or two customers stop by the gift shop on weekdays, and about 10 come on weekend days, she said. Mark usually sells one chair -- which can cost close to $500 -- a month.

Carolyn said she has a core of loyal customers who she expects will start buying again when they're not so worried about finances.

Utz said, "Most of our businesses in Carroll County are feeling some effects" of the recession. "Many retailers hope Christmas shopping will bring their red lines up over the next two months."

Tom Russ, 40, owner of Russ Country Gardens and Gifts in Taylorsville, is counting on a goodChristmas season, but said sales already are up 10 percent over lastyear.

"I think it's the loyalty of the customers, and that the business is diversified," he said.

The shop, at routes 26 and 27, sells crafts, flowers, ice cream, snowballs, produce and Christmas decorations year-round.

Being open seven days a week also helps, said Russ.

"We're always here. We're working harder to stay where we are," he said.

Wendy Rippeon, 32, an owner of Flowers by Wendi in Woodbine, which borders Howard County, said steady population increasesin South Carroll have allowed the business to grow since opening in 1987.

"We've had good business. I can't stand here and complain about business, but I don't expect a rip-roaring Christmas," she said.

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