Ellicott City shops shift gears this Halloween

Without the candy, merchants still hope to attract shoppers

October 29, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

There will be no candy from merchants on Main Street this Halloween, but the shopkeepers will still be looking for a treat.

In response to last month's terrorist attacks, and after a plea from the Howard County Police Department, the Ellicott City Business Association, which sponsors Trick or Treat on Main Street, has agreed not to offer candy to the droves of young children who flood the streets for the annual event.

Instead, the group purchased 400 small pumpkins for a paint-a-pumpkin contest, and will offer prizes.

"No one is concerned the terrorists are going to come, it's just the 911 operators are being overwhelmed by the paranoia," said Jared Spahn, president of the association. Police wouldn't have the manpower to respond to calls for powdered sugar candy, he said.

Nevertheless, shopkeepers are hoping the hundreds of parents expected to accompany their little ones for pumpkin-painting will open their purses and wallets to provide an early start to the holiday shopping season.

"The goal is that the parents will accompany their kids and walk through the stores and see something they can get on Main Street," Spahn said. "This is the prime strong season for us. Halloween is sort of the kickoff for us to celebrate the winter season."

In its 15th year, the event draws about 600 children and several hundred parents to the town's historic district and its retail stores.

And even with the change in plans, merchants are expecting a large crowd, Spahn said.

Although the trick-or-treating is a long-standing tradition in Ellicott City, in recent years, the event has stood alone. Main Street merchants usually do not expect a shopping rush until Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. But this year, the association and several other groups in town are trying to lure shoppers earlier and more often. Starting with Halloween, the groups are planning events every two weeks that they hope will entice consumers - a festival celebrating the arrival of new wine, tours, art displays and, of course, extended hours for shopping.

"It's an opportunity to increase awareness and get these people to come back some other time," said Melissa Arnold, executive director of the county Tourism Council. "There are so many people who've never been here. These special events will entice them to give us a try."

Wednesday's pumpkin-painting will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for children ages 12 and younger. On Nov. 15, Tersiguels French Country restaurant is sponsoring Beaujolais Nouveau, a festival of new wine, and vendors will stay open for the Candle Light Holiday, the official holiday kickoff in which customers are invited for holiday fare.

The weekends of Nov. 30 through Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 and 8, the Tourism Council will sponsor the Dickens of a Tour - dinner and a guided walk through town with stops for refreshments at businesses. Merchants will stay open late Dec. 7 and 21 for Midnight Madness and Miracle on Main Street. In between, students will have artwork displayed in shop windows Dec. 14 to 16, Historic Ellicott City will have its holiday greens sale Dec. 8 and 9, and Patapsco Female Institute will offer a Victorian open house Dec. 9.

"We're trying to revive having a series of events in the fall and winter," Spahn said. "We want to remind people that Ellicott City is a wonderful tourist destination, where you can go shopping."

Most of the events draw local residents, but this year, terrorist activity could make Ellicott City a destination for bus tours as well, Arnold said.

"I've had bus companies call. They're looking for alternatives to their common tours, certainly for their D.C. tours," Arnold said.

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