Sunday shopping, no strings attached Strolling: Most Maryland counties prohibit car sales on Sunday, which is fine with many customers who enjoy leisurely browsing the lots.

March 02, 1998|By Dail Willis and Shanon D. Murray | Dail Willis and Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

It's a Sunday afternoon ballet you can see wherever there's a closed auto dealership, a touch of spring and no rain.

Couple No. 1 (or 2 or 20) pulls into the lot and gets out of the car.

The duo starts with the scan -- a sweeping, 360-degree look at every vehicle on the lot.

Next comes the stroll -- a leisurely, deliberate walk past car after car after car, pickup truck after pickup truck, sport utility after sport utility.

Finally, there is the full stop -- leaning to study the sticker on the window, cupping one hand at the window to peer inside the shiny, locked car with the long, slow look that says, "I want you."

They can't buy, these Sunday shoppers. That's precisely why they're here. In Baltimore County, as elsewhere, yesterday was a day to look, linger, talk (or, in some cases, argue) about the car of their dreams -- with no strings or sales pitch attached to drag the dreams to earth.

"First, you look for something you really can't afford -- that would be the Navigator over there," said Darryl Burrell, who stopped yesterday by Dulaney Motor Co., a dealership on York Road, with Dionne Donald, who is looking for her first car.

"Or the Lincoln," Donald said wistfully, eyes lingering on a sleek black 1998 sedan.

"Then you come down to reality," Burrell said. Looking on Sunday is a "reality check," he said, especially for price-conscious car or truck shoppers like Donald. "You're not embarrassed to say 'it's too much' in front of a buddy. When I'm ready to see a salesman, I've already got it narrowed down."

Burrell is a typical 1998 car shopper, Baltimore area dealers said. Buyers now come to the dealerships -- when they are open -- with a lot more information than they once did. Many have studied car magazines, talked with friends and perused the Internet. When they arrive on the lot, they're often ready to negotiate and buy, dealers say.

"People know more about the product than most of the salesmen," said Wallace Stuart, sales manager at Nationwide Auto World, also on York Road.

In all but three of Maryland's 23 counties, Sunday belongs to the buyer, not the seller. Montgomery and Prince George's counties repealed the laws prohibiting car sales on Sunday more than 20 years ago when they repealed all the other blue laws, said Joseph P. Carroll, president of the 320-member Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association. Last year, Howard County repealed its Sunday blue law on car sales.

Everywhere else, Sunday car-shopping is a sales-free sport -- and the arrangement seems to suit most buyers and sellers fine. The Sunday browsing ritual has survived, as sure a harbinger of spring as the first crocus.

"People just like to look at new cars. People do that on Sunday because they want to stay away from car salesmen, to tell you TTC the truth," Stuart said. Despite a general trend in car sales to stress service to the customer, rather than a sale, people still want a little private time before such a big purchase, he said.

Somewhere along the path to the payment book, buyers want to look, to touch, to see the car instead of a picture of it. For some, the need comes early. For others, it's later in the decision-making process.

"Sundays give us a quiet moment to look at cars without being hounded," said Barry Bloom of Owings Mills, as he and his wife, Susan, strolled around the Len Stoler Lexus dealership on Reis- terstown Road yesterday, narrowing their search for a car to replace his Toyota Camry to three: Volvo, Acura and Lexus.

Ross and Owena Liberati roamed from lot to lot in Baltimore County to find a certain Lincoln model so they could look at it.

"I'm looking for a particular one I can't find -- a Cartier," explained Liberati as his wife looked dolefully in the window of a Lincoln Town Car. "I want volume controls on the wheel. I want seat warmers."

But they couldn't find a Cartier at Dulaney Motor Co., so they looked at other Lincolns and Cadillacs before heading to the next lot, the next step in the Sunday ballet of car shopping.

As the Liberatis were leaving, Jean and Charles Schultz were arriving.

"We come all the time. Nobody hassles us," Schultz said.

Nonetheless, difficulties lay ahead. He liked a Mercury Marquis. She liked a Mercury Sable. He liked fabric seats. She wanted leather ones.

Agreement remained elusive as they looked at the cars on the Dulaney lot.

"She didn't like the tan inside," Schultz said as he followed his wife away from a 1998 Mercury. "It's a woman thing."

Pub Date: 3/02/98

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