Wooing retailers

Visit Baltimore is the city's official convention and tourism sales agency, known in the industry as a destination management organization. It's better known, however, as a representative of restaurants and hotels, rather than retailers.

Hampden was the first of at least five shopping districts in the city that Visit Baltimore plans to solicit for a membership drive aimed at raising the state-funded, nonprofit agency's profile for retailers. The others include Federal Hill, Mount Vernon, Fells Point, Harbor East and General Growth Properties' Inner Harbor.

"I need to create a robust, especially retail program" for Visit Baltimore, Noonan told the Hampden merchants. "When people look at Baltimore, they don't think there's any shopping."

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He went on to say that in Hampden specifically, Visit Baltimore counts only six retailers as members.

"You're underrepresented right now," he said.

For $20,000, the merchants' association would get perks for its members including business leads, coupons for customers and listings in Visit Baltimore's publications and on its website, http://www.baltimore.org, according to Noonan and the website.

"As a member of Visit Baltimore, you will be on the inside track to attract and develop new business. We'll be your link to the hard-to-get-to meeting planners and the lucrative tourism market," the website states.

Susannah Siger, owner of Ma Petite Shoe and a member of both Visit Baltimore and the merchants association, said Visit Baltimore has helped publicize Hampden and her business nationally, including getting the national and international media to write newspaper stories about the business community.

Siger said she assumes Visit Baltimore would not make her pay as both an individual member of its group and as a member of the merchants association.

"I'm not worried about it," she said.