Businesses in capital capitalize on legislators

January 08, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

From purveyors of fresh underwear to dealers in fresh flowers, Annapolis merchants say there is money to be made tending to '' the people who tend to Maryland's government during the 90-day session of the General Assembly.

"A couple times a week, I know I'll have to bring them a fresh pair of boxers," said Larry Vincent, owner of Laurance Clothing near the top of Main Street. "They can't reasonably wear dirty underwear," he said of legislators who pull all-nighters and don't make it home to change clothes.

Dan Robinson, manager of Flowers by James on State Circle, said he regularly sends at least $600 worth of arrangements to a single event. And Dr. William Boro, a chiropractor, gets new clients every year as politicians complain of backaches, headaches and digestive problems.

When the legislative session opens Wednesday, the city's entrepreneurs will be ready to serve Democrats, Republicans and anyone else.

Barbershops, hair salons and manicurists clip, primp and file during winter, usually a slack season in a town where tourism is one of the major industries.

Local merchants are counting on the legislature's 188 members to use their stipends -- $76 a day for lodging and $30 a day for food -- on city businesses' goods and services.

The biggest winners will be by bars, restaurants and hotels.

At pubs and hotels, lobbyists will throw receptions, theme parties and more elegant affairs. Buffalo wings and potato skins, the standard fare of summer tourists, will be replaced by more expensive catered dinners.

"It's the salvation of the town in the winter," said Jan Hardesty, whose husband owns Middleton Tavern and O'Brien's Oyster Bar and Restaurant downtown. "I look at the session as money rather than politics."

This year, her husband plans to give legislators a "credit card" so that they can keep running tabs during the session.

Many lawmakers are attracted by Annapolis traditions.

Chick Levitt, owner of Chick & Ruth's Delly, is known for naming sandwiches after the top political dogs. But he is waiting to name at least one new sandwich until he knows for certain who the next governor will be.

Republican candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey has sued to overturn the results of the election that Parris N. Glendening apparently won by 5,993 votes. Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. is to hear arguments in the case tomorrow.

Either way, Mr. Levitt will replace No. 11 on his menu, "The Donald Schaefer" (kosher hot dog, melted cheese, bologna for $2.50).

Nothing seems to humanize the politicians more than watching them eat an overstuffed sandwich, said Mr. Levitt's son Ted, who helps run the business. That's one reason the restaurant draws such a crowd during the session.

"The politicians hear you out. That's the neat thing," Ted Levitt said. "I don't know why a governor would talk to me, but they do."

Lawmakers also can be buttonholed in the lobbies of hotels where they hole up for the session rather than commute from as far as Garrett and Worcester counties.

Long before the session starts, hotel sales managers scramble to get first crack at the legislators. Hotel staffs send birthday cards, holiday gifts, cookies and letters. The hotel managers learn the legislators' names, faces and biographies in anticipation of housing them for the winter.

"They love the fact that you know things about them. You kind of get on their level," said Annette Burress, a sales manager at the Annapolis Ramada Hotel. "You network, you go to receptions, you support their campaigns. We give our front desk people pictures of all of them so they can call them by name."

Peg Bednarsky, the innkeeper for Historic Inns of Annapolis, calls the legislators who stay there her "children" and writes them all letters signed "Your Mother."

Tom Negri, general manager at Loews Annapolis Hotel, encourages his chef to put meatloaf and salt and pepper potatoes on the menu for those craving home-style food.

At the Ramada, legislators often bring their own dressers, bath mats and sewing machines to help them settle into their winter digs. At the Days Inn, children are welcome and guests are offered unlimited free Nintendo.

In some cases, the legislators move into homes that city %J residents vacate for the winter.

"I can go live in the sunshine while someone else pays my rent for me," said Mary Lou Campbell, who plans to live in Florida

while a legislative staffer camps in her furnished one-bedroom apartment near Back Creek in Eastport.

City residents eager to get political tenants send color photographs and blueprints of their homes to the State House's administrative offices. One such advertisement promises a "delightful back porch for afternoon cocktails and lounging" and a "Florida room with tropical plants and hot tub."

Other residents are just looking for a roommate, a housesitter or a ticket out of the Annapolis winter.

More than 40 announcements on file in the Legislative Services building offer boat slips, indoor pools, tennis courts and "$1,000,000 Waterfront Views!"

With so many offers, it might seem that the lawmakers are popular with the locals.

"The truth is," Ms. Hardesty said, "most native Annapolitans will say they prefer these legislators to the tourists any day."

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