Merchants welcome spring

Strain: A difficult winter led many Main Street stores to close their doors, but the owners of surviving shops are optimistic.

March 31, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Six storefronts in Ellicott City have shut their doors over the winter, a result of a shrinking economy and frightful weather in recent months, but many shop owners say they're hopeful spring will bring better business for Main Street.

Web design firm Esavio closed its office along Main Street because of cutbacks made at the company's headquarters in Philadelphia. The five other stores - two Foxfire locations, Holy Cow, Main Street Baskets and Cauble Stones Avenue - all sold antiques, gift items or arts and crafts. At least two of the stores say they are hoping to relocate to other areas.

Those Main Street merchants and several others were affected by a string of events that hindered the local economy - from sniper shootings in the Washington suburbs last fall to the snowstorm in February.

"I think the winter weather was very difficult. It was a very slow season with extreme cold," said Jared Spahn, president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "Overall, business is down. Right now, it's a buyers market. Businesses are looking to relieve themselves of inventory."

Most merchants agree that business on Main Street ebbs and flows with the weather. But, like farmers, a small business can be hurt by several unfavorable seasons.

Kristin Cauble-Morse, owner of Cauble Stones Avenue, said she has put the business on hold as she and her husband - an active-duty soldier - wait out the war. She hopes to find a new location by the fall, and her artwork is on display at Sarah and Desmond's Bakery and Cafe, located next to her former shop.

Main Street's more successful merchants provide services along with selling merchandise, or they create reasons to compel shoppers to visit their stores.

Sun Pacylowski, owner of collectibles shop Precious Gifts, said she's seen business dry up this winter, but when that happens, she holds special events at her store and commissions exclusive items in an effort to draw shoppers in. Internet sales also have helped, she said.

"You have to create reasons [for shoppers] to come out," she said. "It costs to do it, but good times and bad times, you have to do it.

Enalee Bounds, owner of Ellicott's Country Store, said her winter business went well because the store offers interior decorating services as well as retail sales of decorations.

As the weather has warmed in the first days of spring, some merchants said they've seen their business warm up as well. Last week's sunny days brought out more shoppers.

"It's picked up a lot - and people are buying," said Brenda Franz of Attic Antiques N Things. "It's very encouraging."

Main Street may not be hurt overall because of the closings. A new flock of businesses is already on the way.

El Porton, a new store selling Mexican imports, is moving to Main Street, along with a hair salon that will reportedly move into one of Foxfire's locations.

Spahn said the business association also is planning events to help draw customers to the area more often. He said the group hopes to double the number of events on Main Street to 10 this year.

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