In January, when a thick layer of ice covered Annapolis sidewalks, Tom Donehower and his roommates were shut up in their Maryland Avenue apartment, too sick to go to the drugstore for medicine.
"I thought how nice it would be if someone could deliver it to us," recalls Mr. Donehower, a 21-year-old junior at St. John's College. The thought eventually led to Bay Runners, a courier service that will deliver anything to anyone.
Mr. Donehower and his roommate Matt Freitas, 20, also a junior at St. John's, began offering their services to residents and businesses in Annapolis last month. They use their mountain bikes to weave in and out of downtown traffic and avoid parking problems while making deliveries.
"Annapolis has a lot of problems with traffic and parking," Mr. Freitas explains. "Using the bikes is quicker and easier."
The two pooled their savings and borrowed money from their parents to cover start-up costs, such as bicycles, the pager and the voice-mail systems they use for delivery orders and supplies. Despite the hot weather, making the deliveries has been the easiest part of the job, they say.
"It's the publicity, selling ourselves, that's been difficult," Mr. Donehower said. "It's been a real learning experience."
The pair started by sending out 400 fliers offering to make deliveries free for 10 days. The results were disappointing.
"When people see free delivery, I guess they think it is for pizza or Chinese food," Mr. Donehower said. "But we will deliver anything, flowers, medicine, gifts. It's a nice personal touch to have something hand-delivered."
For $2.50 a delivery, the pair will ride anywhere from the downtown Historic District to West Annapolis, Eastport and the West Street corridor between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. They have had some calls from people who need grocery shopping done or packages taken to the post office.
"So far it's mostly been people who don't have time to do these things themselves," Mr. Freitas said. "Sometimes when you have a chore to do, you will do anything to get it done."
The two have offered to deliver medicine for Rite Aid customers, packages for lawyers and real estate agents, and food from area restaurants. "I think if businesses would give us a chance, they would find out what a benefit we could be to them," Mr. Donehower said.
In addition to Rite Aid, they have talked with the owners of Deli Depot and a real estate firm.
"O'Connor, Piper and Flynn seemed interested in using us," Mr. Donehower said. "If we could land a big business like that, the rest would follow. I have a lot of hopes for that."
Dozens of calls to offices have brought no results.
But Mr. Freitas and Mr. Donehower are not discouraged. They say they believe in their business and think it will eventually take off.
"It's an old-fashioned shake-your-hand type of business," Mr. Donehower said. "We are not just errand boys. We will do anything."