BEL AIR -- David Hansford thought trolls would be a boon to his business. His efforts, however, have gone bust.
The businessman was hoping to cash in on the craze over the small dolls that have a shock of hair in flaming colors by selling them at a temporary stand at the Harford Mall in Bel Air for the Easter holiday.
But the mall's merchant association ordered Mr. Hansford to stop selling the popular trolls so he would not cut into the sales of his competitors.
"I can see the point of protecting tenants," the 35-year-old Bel Air resident said. "But I'm not doing anything that I feel is walking on anyone's feet. Something here is not right."
Mr. Hansford, who operates Balloons, Strings and Things, said the merchant association's order goes against the grain of American free trade and the spirit of competition.
The association's order to remove the trolls may violate his contract with the management, Mr. Hansford said. The contract allows him to sell balloons and accessories.
Not so, said Nancy Brown, spokeswoman for the association.
"He can free trade in America wherever he wants," she said. "This is a private property and [management] has rules for this property."
The mall management, BTR Realty Inc. of Linthicum, has discretion to determine what temporary merchants like Mr. Hansford can sell to avoid conflicts with permanent tenants, Ms. Brown said.
Wang's Gifts, which has a permanent mall shop, set up a cart that sells trolls directly across from where Mr. Hansford was selling his dolls in the center of the mall.
So the trolls at Mr. Hansford's stand were given their walking papers.
Ms. Brown said five other permanent shops are selling trolls, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The dolls cost between $4 and $20.
Without the trolls, Mr. Hansford is selling stuffed animals that come inside a large, clear balloon. To the businessman, the stuffed animals don't stand a chance against the popular trolls.
"They're the hottest selling items around," he said. "The kids are looking for trolls . . . not stuffed animals."
The businessman has operated another Balloons, Strings and Things shop in the 300 block of N. Main St. in Bel Air for more than two years. That shop specializes in party decorations, while the mall kiosk handles gifts.
Mr. Hansford has operated the mall stand over the past 18 months, during the Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day holidays.
His stand is open for about one week during each holiday.
The stand sold trolls for last Valentine's Day, but he said there were no complaints.
Expecting big sales for Easter, Mr. Hansford said he doubled his order of trolls for the week his stand would be at the mall.
He said he expected to sell at least 100 dolls.
The businessman said he cut his losses by selling his stock to the Ellen's Hallmark shop in the mall for $800.
But Mr. Hansford said he expected to profit $1,600 from the trolls.
"This kind of blows my season for Easter," he said.