Holiday cheer infuses Main Street Many merchants on Ellicott City's artsy row say sales are up.

December 13, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Recession? What recession.

That's the response from merchants on Ellicott City's quaint Main Street when asked how they've been affected by the economic downturn that has sent retailing into a tailspin in much of the country.

"A few months ago it was kind of slow, but since October things have been terrific," says Enalee E. Bounds, owner of Ellicott's Country Store, as she stands behind her counter, surrounded by antique tea sets, baskets, lamps and dolls. "We had the best November we've had in 30 years."

While many large retailers are reporting sluggish sales, some Main Street shopkeepers coming off their annual Midnight Madness selling binge on Friday say business is booming. Others say the numbers are at least steady.

Bounds theorizes that shoppers, more cautious about spending their money, are being selective. As a result, she says, they are more likely to buy inexpensive but timeless items from specialty shops like hers.

"In bad times, people tend to go back to antiques, things with some value, old-fashioned things," she says.

Main Street is lined with artsy crafts and antique shops.

Across the street, Jan and Don Randle, owners of the Nature Nook, say their store has been hurt only by the calendar. The Christmas shopping season was shortened this year by Thanksgiving's relatively late arrival, which left less than four weeks for the Christmas rush.

"A lot of people are afraid to let go of their capital, but with a store like this, the most expensive thing is $500," says Don Randle. He says most of the merchandise in his store -- which includes science toys for children and nature-inspired novelty items -- costs between $5 and $20.

"I have the feeling that the high-line people are hurting, but low-line people like us aren't hurt that bad," he says.

Main Street's high-line restaurant isn't complaining. At Tersiguel's, which Baltimore magazine named the best new French restaurant this year, local author Mary Cahill was emerging from her 16-member luncheon with autographed copies of her new book "Carpool."

"We're 20 percent above projections," says restaurateur Fernand Tersiguel. "Maybe in a certain sense we've see a drop-off on some parties -- 40- and 50-people parties. But we're doing a lot more parties with 10, 15 people."

Up and down Main Street, the response is the same: business is either better or just as good as expected.

However, one member of the Ellicott City Business Association, who asks not to be identified, says she is surprised by those responses.

"I think it's definitely slower than last year," she says. "There's not as much activity; shoppers are holding onto their money."

She says that, although she is glad to hear that other merchants are pleased with recent sales, she is skeptical.

"I guess you can't just stick your head in the sand and say things are bad," she says. "Peerhaps projecting a good outlook is a good psychological tactic."

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