Susan Zellers has a big product to sell: the city of Annapolis.
Ms. Zellers, who is poised to become the city's next economic development director, will work as a liaison with the business community to lure to Annapolis everything from mom-and-pop shops to corporate headquarters.
"I am thrilled with it, I really am," said Ms. Zellers, 36, an Eastport resident selected for the post by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins. "The business aspect of Annapolis has always fascinated me, and City Hall is intriguing."
Ms. Zellers will take over Jan. 2 for Mary Burkholder, who left this month to become director of business development for Maryland after a year in the city's economic development post. The city council was informed of the mayor's selection this week.
Ms. Zellers has never worked in city government before, but has built a career in public relations and marketing for newspapers. She was promotion director for the Capital from 1984 to 1992, when Mr. Hopkins was an alderman and the paper's sports editor. She also was special events manager for the San Jose Mercury News in California for two years and left that job in 1994 to travel. She returned to Annapolis last year.
The post of economic development director is considered one of the highest-profile jobs in the city, although a citizens panel charged with reviewing the salaries of Annapolis political appointees this year recommended eliminating the $49,039-a-year position to save money. Few aldermen embraced that idea, and Mr. Hopkins said he does not plan to lower the
position's starting salary.
Ms. Zellers is arriving in Annapolis as local merchants try to recover from a year in which most of Main Street was blocked off for nine months, stalling tourist traffic and slowing profits in the historic district's business community.
In the midst of that project, three of the business community's top contacts announced they were leaving.
Penny Chandler, executive director of the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce for nearly a decade, tendered her resignation and has not been replaced. City Administrator Michael D. Mallinoff will leave in January, to be replaced by Annapolis resident John Prehn, and Ms. Burkholder's post has been vacant since Dec. 15.
Mayor Hopkins, who will leave city government when his second term expires in 1997, said change is good in local government.
But some merchants wonder where the future of local business is headed, and whether any serious business recruitment can happen during the last two years of the mayor's tenure.
Larry Vincent, a local merchant and one-time mayoral candidate, said Ms. Zellers needs to be aggressive in finding new business and advising merchants in the city.
"I feel like we're all just sort of out there," said Mr. Vincent, who owns Laurance Clothing on Main Street. "I feel insecure about my future. When you ask a basic question from the city, like, are you planning to go up-market or down-market, should I be buying sleazy T-shirts like for Ocean City or something upscale like for Nantucket, you can't get an answer."
But others see Ms. Burkholder's departure as a way for merchants to forge stronger ties to state government. "I don't feel any uneasiness," said Cynthia McBride, who owns McBride Gallery on Main Street. "[Ms. Burkholder] is going to the state, and Annapolis is part of the state, and so we will continue to benefit. And the mayor had very strong candidates to replace her in the city."