Buyers survey shops

December 07, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Anyone hoping to avoid the crowds at Ellicott City's 15th annual Midnight Madness Friday night by shopping yesterday afternoon was in for a surprise.

The crowds were smaller -- they couldn't have been otherwise -- but the average wait for a parking place yesterday was 15 minutes or more. In many businesses, customers had to wait in lines to be served.

Things were so busy at Sheppard Art Gallery, for example, that a box of unopened cookies and a punch ladle from Friday night's celebration still hadn't been put away. They were on a nearby card table.

"I'll get up and let somebody take my seat; I've been here for a while," said one customer feeling the press of people behind her.

When asked how business was going this weekend, harried owner Beverly Gregory waved at the crowd of people and shouted a quick, "It's evident!"

No one was willing to come right out and say the recession is over, but most shopkeepers certainly talked as if it is.

Carole Lee, manager of the Antique Mall in the Shops at Ellicott Mills, was ebullient over the fact that people who "couldn't budge" Friday because they were packed in so tightly, were coming back Saturday and Sunday to make purchases.

"I had to ask people to leave at midnight," she said. "I was ringing a cow bell: 'Twelve o'clock and all is well.' This has to be our best year. One man came back from New Jersey to buy his wife an antique dresser for Christmas.

"And we're selling more gift items -- Gene Autry things, cups and saucers, pictures, paintings, Santas, records, beautiful Irish linen tea towels, salt and peppers, and for some reason or other, gravy boats. People must be collecting them."

Deborah Amos, one of the owners at Stillridge Herb Shop, said the difference between this year and last is that people are buying items costing $850 or more this year whereas last year, they spent in the $35 to $50 range. Nonetheless, there is still a "conservative trend" among buyers, she said. "They are trying to come up with more special items rather than the one big item that makes a special statement."

What people are looking for, she said, are customer service, unique gifts, and special attention, something she believes Ellicott City merchants are offering. "I do a lot of craft shows and in a poor economy, people are always looking for an American buy -- something they can get that is unique and handcrafted."

Even with their conservatism, people are being more generous overall this holiday season, Ms. Amos said. "We're going to have a good year."

"People have a really positive attitude," said Sheila Perkins, owner of Mother Earth and Papa's Garden. Ellicott City shopkeepers are committed to community service, she said. "We like to make a difference."

The result this year, she said, was that Midnight Madness produced "a kind of Mardi Gras type of feeling. Everybody seems to be looking forward to the holiday season."

Employee Jennifer Geary agreed. "I came a year ago from New Mexico and I've never seen crowds like this," she said. "Ellicott City is the best place to shop. People had some really neat gift ideas."

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