New group promotes businesses in 'SoFo Annapolis'

December 09, 2013|By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

Ever been to the "SoFo" part of Annapolis?

If you're not sure, don't feel badly. Until a few months ago, the name didn't exist. It was dreamed up recently by owners and managers of businesses along Forest Drive as a way to draw attention to stores and restaurants on their side of town.

After working privately for months, the SoFo Annapolis group has taken its message to the public in recent weeks to capitalize on the holiday shopping season.

"Our goal is to, first and foremost, help raise awareness to the public of the offerings of the businesses in our part of Annapolis," said Julie Curd, owner of the Wild Bird Center shop in Clock Tower Plaza on Forest Drive and a co-founder of SoFo Annapolis.

SoFo Annapolis covers an area along Forest Drive from Chinquapin Round Road to the Bay Ridge area.

While there's often attention paid to businesses in downtown Annapolis, West Annapolis, Eastport and other neighborhoods, some Forest Drive businesses felt left out. At a meeting with economic development officials and then-Mayor Josh Cohen a few months ago, the idea for a special business association for Forest Drive was hatched.

SoFo Annapolis founders said, though, it was clear it would be up to them to get something off the ground.

"They said, 'Wow. We understand. That's a good idea of trying to organize. You should look into that,'" said Lisa Knoll, a partner and sales director of the Bay Weekly newspaper, located on Forest Drive. "It was bounced right back into our laps."

The handful of interested business owners grew to more than a dozen formal members. More have expressed interest in joining.

SoFo boosters note that thousands of cars per day drive down Forest Drive, but many motorists don't stop and check out the local offerings, which include specialty retailers, restaurants and services such as insurance agents and dentists.

"They drive by it twice a day, at least. Yet we still hear a lot of, 'Oh, I didn't know it was there,' " said Jana Fisher, property manager for the Village Greens shopping center on Forest Drive.

Some might be so focused on beating traffic and getting to work or home that they don't notice what's right in their own community, Curd said. She said some motorists might be driving to other parts of town instead of patronizing neighborhood merchants on Forest Drive simply because they don't know about them.

"It's a misnomer about traffic on Forest Drive, in my opinion," Curd said. "It is not terrible, except maybe for a half-hour in the morning and a half-hour in the evening."

So far, SoFo Annapolis has a website, Facebook page and Twitter account, and has been running ads on a local radio station.

The group planned its first public event on Saturday — a holiday celebration at the Village Greens shopping center with a visit from Santa, a toy collection for needy kids, and freebies and discounts from businesses.

The group also is running a promotion in which customers in shops along the corridor can enter a raffle. Each participating business will pick a winner of a $50 gift card on Dec. 16.

While the initial focus has been on marketing retail shops and restaurants, SoFo Annapolis has larger ambitions.

The group hopes to become a business-to-business resource in the area. And the group would like to present a unified voice on behalf of the business community on issues that affect the Forest Drive corridor, such as road projects and proposed developments.

Taking on bigger issues will come with time, Knoll said.

"We're kind of doing things very quickly because we wanted to maximize the holiday season," she said. "We don't have any dues, even, at this point. We're just trying to help each other out."

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