Sykesville leaders want to capitalize on its small-town cachet: quaint, with businesses lining Main Street and a sense of security not found in many big cities.
They have hired Margaret Spurlock, former president of the Howard County Tourism Council, as part-time tourism director to put their town on the map.
Spurlock will oversee the town's First Weekend promotions - cultural and other events that will be held the first Friday and Saturday of each month - and provide a communication hub for the diverse groups in Sykesville whose events attract tourists.
In choosing her, the Friends of Historic Sykesville, an organization made up of members of community groups and town government officials, noted her understanding of challenges facing the businesses of the town, population 4,197.
Owned Ellicott City gallery
Spurlock is former owner of Margaret Smith Gallery in another historic community, Ellicott City. She helped create many downtown events in the Howard County seat.
"Tourism is the economic engine that runs this community," Spurlock said.
She has been on the job in Sykesville less than a month and is developing a large-scale model-railroad festival, which town leaders hope to turn into Sykesville's "signature" event.
"Tourism isn't only good for the local business economy," she said. "It's good for residents, too. There are great restaurants and shops that local residents enjoy as much as out-of-town people. It's also a clean industry: no factories or plants to build."
The ingredients are in place to make Sykesville successful, she said.
"The level of [voluntarism] and the motivation of people is what impressed me most," Spurlock said. "They just needed someone to coordinate it all."
Hiring a tourism director stems from a recent marketing consultant's report.
"We'd been working for several years on Main Street revitalization," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "But when we formed Friends of Sykesville ... we decided to hire a professional consultant."
`A lot of potential'
Gene Gillispie, president of the Sykesville Business Association, said the consultant "showed us what was right, what was wrong, the advantages and disadvantages of our town and said we had it all - a quaint Main Street, a lot of history and a lot of potential."
"The feeling in 2001 of secure, safe and familiar surroundings, that you can park your car on our Main Street and not even have to lock it, that's what we want to capitalize on," Gillispie added,
A professional tourism director is the best way to take advantage of the town's charm, business leaders said.
They hope that the job, funded by the town and business association, will evolve into a full-time position.
"We want to see commercial business thrive and attract new businesses as well," the mayor said.