Saying small businesses in Baltimore need an advocate, about 20 business people agreed yesterday to form a committee to explore the creation of a city Chamber of Commerce.
"We feel like this is something whose time has come," said Milt Rosenbaum, president of the Market Center Association and owner of a women's hosiery store on Saratoga Street.
The city has been without a Chamber of Commerce since 1977, when it merged with the Greater Baltimore Committee.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who attended yesterday's meeting at the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors headquarters, urged the business leaders to avoid duplicating the efforts of the GBC and the Downtown Partnership, which promote business development in Baltimore.
"You have to ask, 'Is there a vacuum? Is there something that's needed?' " the governor said. "My own view is that there is a need to fulfill in the city, whether the GBC fills it or the downtown committee fills it or something else."
Mr. Schaefer warned the business leaders to move cautiously, saying, "You can't go halfway and stop. If you're going to organize, you've got to move forward."
Joseph Haskins Jr., a downtown banker and member of the GBC board of directors, agreed that the GBC has not paid enough attention to small and medium-sized businesses, but he advocated reforming the GBC rather than creating a separate organization. "The last thing many of the small businesses need is another [membership] fee," he said.
Edwin Warfield IV, publisher of The Daily Record, said one solution would be to expand the role of the Downtown Partnership and make the agency private.
The Downtown Partnership receives city funds and membership donations to help promote downtown business.
But Tucky P. Ramsey, owner of Presenting Baltimore Inc., a marketing concern, said she would like to see a new organization. "We need to start something at the grass-roots level," said Ms. Ramsey, who recently resigned from the GBC because, she said, she felt women business leaders were being overlooked.
Harold Adams, president of the Baltimore Junior Chamber of DTC Commerce, also supported creating a new Chamber of Commerce. His organization was the primary membership recruiter for the former Chamber of Commerce.
The Junior Chamber, which once had an age limit of 32, has raised that limit to 40 to help retain members. "If we don't get another chamber, we'll soon have to raise it again," Mr. Adams said.