W. Annapolis trains the spotlight on itself

W. Annapolis seeks spotlight

Publicity : Merchants work to attract more customers.

February 01, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The merchants of West Annapolis - a district dotted with shingled shops for beads, antiques, quilting, English imports and girls' dress-up tea parties - are tired of being the best-kept secret in the city.

So they are taking matters into their own hands in an effort to let the wider world - especially the thousands of tourists who flock to the nearby Historic District every year - know they are there.

The steps they are taking are small, and some of them are still in the planning stage. But the merchants are betting that a new sign, a new brochure and a new name - the Village of West Annapolis - will heighten their visibility beyond those who now frequent Annapolis Street, sometimes known as the city's little Mayberry.

Waltraud Regina, 70, waits on tables and makes batter for oat bran pancakes at Regina's Restaurant, a German-style cafe that she sold several years ago to her daughter, Stephanie Regina Knopp.

Regina refers to the restaurant, surrounded by shops, a wellness center, an elementary school and residential streets, as a "hideaway." She was one of the first to open a business in this two-block commercial zone 20 years ago. "Then there was nothing fashionable here," she recalled.

Since then, entrepreneurs, many of them women, have opened specialty shops that cater mostly to local customers and clients. Stores include a beauty salon, a bakery, an art supply store and Giant Peach, a children's shop.

Laurie Nolan owns Art Things Inc., a shop under the roof of a converted house now painted bright pink. "Our customers are neighbors," she said. "We're a part of the school yearbook advertising section, and we support the local symphony."

Beyond that, she said, "We are always struggling for recognition."

Bob Steers, an antiques dealer at Absolutely Fabulous, said, "We have a problem letting people know we're here. We're the best-kept secret in Annapolis. We don't get the same tourist trade in the summer."

The West Annapolis shopping district, which covers about four blocks across Rowe Boulevard from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, is easy to miss.

This sense of obscurity is more acute when the district is compared to the posh shops and cafes about a mile away in the state capital's prosperous downtown and along West Street, which was recently paved with an eye-catching herringbone brick pattern. The comparison led some West Annapolis shop owners to feel like an overlooked country cousin.

Lynne Sherlock, proprietor of Tara's Gifts and Parties of Distinction, is leading the way toward incremental improvements as president of the Village of West Annapolis association. First on her list for this year's public relations campaign is a more prominent sign on Rowe Boulevard, the city's main gateway, with a message along the lines of "Discover the Village of West Annapolis." She estimates that it will cost the association $2,500.

"They've helped Main Street and West Street. Now they need to come to West Annapolis," Sherlock said, referring to city officials.

As she spoke, a girls' tea party was in progress in the next room, where a group of 4-year-olds was being told to "sit up straight and proper, like little ladies," by etiquette instructor Ann Owen.

Tom Smith, chief of city planning, said no application had been received for a new sign but that the city is likely to support the merchants association's request.

"This is a new bit of image and community identification," he said. "We take those case by case and would be happy to entertain any proposal for replacing the [West Annapolis] sign."

Old-fashioned streetlights, broader sidewalks and a business directory would also come in handy, Sherlock said. But for now, a new name, sign and brochure are easier to achieve. Last year, the city set a two-hour parking limit on Annapolis Street but left in effect the free parking that merchants say is one of their best advantages over downtown.

At least one longtime business, almost concealed from view in the old pink house's ground floor, seems to have no problem attracting traffic. The Cottonseed Glory Quilting Shop, which holds weekly classes and Saturday sampler bees, draws women from all over the city and region.

Janice Waugaman, a customer who often drives from her home in Calvert County to collect fabrics for her favorite hobby, said she lies awake at night thinking about quilting.

Her husband, Ned, said jokingly, "My wife is cheating on me. But things could be worse."

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