Halloween is shaping up to be more of a scavenger hunt than an evening of trick-or-treating for many kids in Howard County this year, with two major candy-filled traditions altered at the request of the Howard County Police Department.
The Ellicott City Business Association and The Mall in Columbia will suspend their traditions of distributing candy, and offer alternatives such as pumpkin painting, story telling and passing out trinkets.
A handful of other area merchants, including the Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie, are joining the candy boycott after recent anthrax attacks.
Elsewhere across the Baltimore region, most merchants are planning to continue traditional Halloween candy distribution. White Marsh Mall, Towson Town Center, Arundel Mills and Laurel Mall stores will be handing out candy to mark the Halloween season.
"We feel it's important to continue with all our traditional events," said Tony Summers, marketing manager of the White Marsh Mall, which will have trick-or-treating at 5 p.m. Wednesday and a costume contest at 7 p.m.
Apart from Howard County, no other Baltimore area police department has asked businesses to refrain from handing out candy on Halloween.
Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said Chief Wayne Livesay's request that businesses not hand out candy is based on his recommendation that parents take their children trick-or-treating only at homes of relatives and close family friends.
Llewellyn said the department feared an onslaught of 911 calls about suspicious candy and powdery white substances. Howard County has responded to more than 200 such calls in the past two weeks, she said.
"Part of the issue for police is the concern that all parents who check their kids candy like they should ... will call in with anything that seems out of place," Llewellyn said. "If there's an open wrapper on a piece of candy from grandmother, they're not likely to call the police. They'll throw it away."
Karen Geary, vice president and general manager of The Mall in Columbia, said the mall officials met Thursday morning to put together a substitute Halloween program. The mall -- which has held trick-or-treating for decades -- will offer storytelling, a magician and other activities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Children will also take home goodie bags filled with nonfood treats, she said.
"We're complying with the Police Department's request not to pass out candy," Geary said yesterday, adding that none of the more than 30 other Rouse Company shopping centers has canceled candy distribution.
Jared Spahn, president of the Ellicott City Business Association, said the association's seven-member executive board decided to swap candy for pumpkin painting after Capt. Howard Ferguson, Northern District commander, made a personal appeal to them at a board meeting Thursday morning. Pumpkin painting will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, the same time that had been set aside for trick-or-treating.
"As business owners, we constantly ask the police for assistance, and this is a circumstance where they're asking us for help," Spahn said yesterday. "It was our decision that we wanted to cooperate with the Police Department. As merchants, we're very dependent on their services."
Vickie Goeller, who coordinates "Trick or Treat on Main Street," spent Thursday afternoon and yesterday delivering the news to Ellicott City's Main Street businesses.
"The president is saying to get back to normal, and here we are canceling an event that has been going on 10 to 15 years," said Barry Gibson, an employee at the Forget-Me-Not Factory on Main Street. "It's a ridiculous decision. Where do we draw the line? What's next, no candy canes at Christmas? No Santa Claus?"
Gibson called the Police Department's request to suspend trick-or-treating on Main Street "a slap in the face" to the merchants.
A handful of other area malls have decided to cancel trick-or-treating independently of the police.
Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie announced Oct. 19 that it would eliminate the trick-or-treating portion of its annual Halloween activities. Spokeswoman Melissa Teague said crafts and entertainment will proceed as planned. The mall will also distribute goodie bags filled with crayons, temporary tattoos and similar items, Teague said.
Taubman Centers Inc., which operates Marley Station, is forbidding all of its 30 shopping centers across the country from handing out candy. Taubman also operates Lake Forest Mall in Gaithersburg.
Anne Arundel County officials aren't recommending anyone cancel Halloween events in response to the anthrax scare, but they are preparing for anthrax hoaxes among traditional pranks and mischief associated with the holiday.
"We are not doing anything different for Halloween," said Baltimore City spokesman Kevin Enright. "We are telling citizens to use common sense. It's business as usual."
Baltimore County police said they would like residents to give out sealed packages to alleviate concerns.
Worries about the holiday have flared in other areas of the country. In Fort Worth, Texas, the mayor has urged children not to go trick-or-treating this year, and Microsoft canceled its annual company Halloween party.
Sun staff writers Gerard Shields, Laura Barnhardt and Allison Klein contributed to this article.