Merry-Go-Round's fall Harford's Apple?: County confident it can cushion blow from loss of a major employer.

February 10, 1996

MERRY-GO-ROUND Enterprises was, in many ways, Harford County's Apple Computer. Like the iconoclastic Silicon Valley computer pioneer, Merry-Go-Round was anything but buttoned-down -- from its ponytailed founder, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, to its corporate exercise regimen. Like Apple, its funky, underdog persona made it a media darling. Unfortunately for the Joppa-based youth clothier, it paralleled Apple in one final way: It ignored changes in the marketplace and its fortunes plummeted.

Silver linings are hard to find for the 630 headquarters employees who soon will be jobless, another 6,000 who worked in the chain's mall outlets and the hundreds of local investors who bet the retailer could rebound. At a job fair held for employees the other day, much anger was aimed at the company's richly compensated turnaround artists, who ultimately didn't exhibit much turnaround art at all.

And yet this sad tale may have a happier ending for workers than the recently announced loss of 600 blue-collar jobs at a Bausch & Lomb sunglasses factory in economically depressed and isolated Garrett County.

Suburban Harford County has been one of the stronger job creators, attracting 1,400 positions in the last 15 months. The trend in Maryland recently has been a trade-off of high manufacturing wages for lower-paying service jobs. But Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann's administration believes that a new distribution/telemarketing center being built by Saks Fifth Avenue (400 jobs) and a personnel operations center coming to Harford's perennial employment engine, Aberdeen Proving Ground (250 jobs), will offset part of Merry-Go-Round's loss.

County officials, sensitive to complaints about public "corporate welfare," say they gained in tax revenues more than double the $1.3 million in tax credits they used to lure Merry-Go-Round nine years ago. Even so, Harford will long owe a debt to Merry-Go-Round for putting it on the business map.

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