State getting out of 'Maryland' T-shirt and tote-bag business Complaint from mail-order retailer prompts decision

November 08, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

The state of Maryland is retreating from the T-shirt and tote-bag business because of concerns that it was competing unfairly with private businesses.

Come Jan. 1, the Department of Natural Resources will drop a year-old mail-order catalog that sells shirts, coffee mugs and other memorabilia emblazoned with the words "Maryland" and "Chesapeake Bay."

"We don't want to be competing with someone who is in private business," said Rick Barton, the department's superintendent of state forests and parks.

The department had hoped to earn money from catalog sales to reduce its reliance on tax dollars. The funds would have been used to help run and maintain its 47 parks and six forests, he said.

But a Howard County businesswoman, Melissa M. Fulton, launched an informal campaign against the catalog last year. Ms. Fulton owns Celebrate Maryland!, a mail-order and retail business that sells Maryland-oriented sweat shirts, scarves, books and T-shirts.

The department should not use its power and money to compete with private businesses, said Ms. Fulton, who has shops in Ellicott City and St. Michaels.

Last winter, she took her concerns to Annapolis, where she found a receptive audience among some members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. The senators urged the department to avoid selling the same items available in local shops.

But limiting inventory that way would not be profitable, Mr. Barton said.

As it is, "We are about to break even right now," he said.

The department has nearly made up the $78,000 it spent developing the catalog and buying inventory.

"We might consider a future catalog, but it would be something absolutely specific to state forests and parks," he said. For instance, instead of selling T-shirts that say "Maryland," the state could offer shirts saying "Sandy Point State Park," he said.

Even with those changes, Ms. Fulton said, the department should not be dabbling in retail.

"I think it is wholly inappropriate," she said.

She said she could not judge whether the current catalog directly affected her business. Still, she believes it had the potential to do real damage if allowed to continue and expand.

"The state has unlimited resources to fund something like this. [But] as a small business owner, I don't have unlimited resources," she said.

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