Spring sends the crowds to Annapolis

April 07, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Downtown Annapolis merchants have been smiling this week, knowing that at last the tourists and better days are returning after one of Maryland's worst winters in years kept people in hibernation.

The turnaround started about a month ago as the weather began to improve. It culminated last weekend in what Chris Cutler, general manager of the Harbour House restaurant, called "a blockbuster."

Customers waited 30 minutes and longer for a table at the restaurant, which has a large glass-walled dining room and an outdoor terrace that overlooks City Dock and Annapolis harbor.

"We've already recouped what we lost this winter," Mr. Cutler said.

He and other restaurant managers said they are interviewing applicants to beef up their staffs for the onslaught of tourists that is to come.

In addition to the usual fare of boat shows, festivals and Naval Academy events, Annapolis is set to begin a yearlong celebration of the city's 300th anniversary as the state capital. Tourism officials are planning 300 events from Sept. 16, 1994, to Oct. 10, 1995.

The celebration is expected to boost the popularity of Annapolis, ranked fourth in the state last year as a tourist spot. The city generates about a fourth of the $5 billion that tourists spend in the state annually, said George Williams, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism.

Hotels and other lodgings in Annapolis say bookings are strong after a bad winter. People also are staying longer, three to four nights instead of one, they say.

"We're already taking reservations for October," said Robert Zuchelli, co-owner of Bed and Breakfast of Maryland, a coalition of bed and breakfast owners. "The season has really kicked in within the last 30 days with the nice weather we've had. It seems like people are waking up after being shut in."

The ice storms of winter were the second blow of a vicious one-two punch that hurt Annapolis' tourist business. The other was the flagging economy, which seems to be recovering.

"It's taken this industry a long time to recover from the recession, but it's starting to recover," said Peggy Wall, executive vice president of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau in the first block of West Street.

About 952 people used the bureau's services Saturday. Good weather notwithstanding, Ms. Wall was shocked, she said.

The center didn't get that many people until the Fourth of July last year, she said. "I think it was our busiest [spring] weekend in 12 years."

To Ed Hartman, who has run Chesapeake Marine Tours at the City Dock since 1972, the city looked as if it drew thousands Saturday. "It looked like midsummer on City Dock last weekend," he said.

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