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Zagat sets sights on Hampden for new retail survey

Best known for restaurant reviews, company to rate Baltimore businesses for first time

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

10:27 AM EST, January 15, 2014

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Zagat is doing a retail survey of Baltimore businesses — and will be paying a visit to Hampden next week aboard a trolley.

Though better known for rating restaurants and hotels, Zagat, founded by Tim and Nina Zagat in 1980, also reviews retail stores around the country. The New York-based company has reviewed restaurants in Baltimore before, but will make its first foray into the city's business communities on Jan. 18, when survey teams will be making trolley stops in Hampden, the Inner Harbor, Harbor East and Fells Point, in partnership with the promotional group Visit Baltimore.

"We're hoping it shines a brighter light on the retail we have in the city," compared to New York and other big cities, said Sara Warfield, a spokeswoman for Visit Baltimore. She said neighborhoods such as Hampden have a lot of trendy boutique shops selling items such as shoes, handbags and chocolates, that are the equal of stores in bigger markets.

"It was a convergence of interests," said Tim Zagat, explaining how his company and Visit Baltimore partnered to do a retail event in Baltimore. "It's not new for us. It's just new for Baltimore."

According to Zagat spokeswoman Susan Cadrecha, the Baltimore business community is generating so much interest that it has come to the attention of Zagat.

"It's an area that's flourishing, from what wer're seeing online and hearing from surveyers," Cadrecha said. "We're really hoping to create some buzz to highlight the businesses and destinations that people like."

Zagat is doing online surveys of pre-selected retail businesses in 17 markets nationwide, with plans to do the surveys in more markets this year. The survey is currently live in four of the 17 markets — Baltimore, Minneapolis, Minn., Phoenix, Ariz., and Providence, R.I.

The Baltimore survey is available at http://www.zagat.com/vote, and those who take the survey will win a copy of Zagat's 2014 America's Top Restaurant Guide. The 2014 shopping guide is still in production.

"The retailers were pre-selected by the Zagat editorial team and consumers are asked to review their favorites from the list via the survey," Warfield said.

Zagat uses the results of its surveys to create ratings and reviews, which are then published online and in its guides, according to the website. In conjunction with the online surveys, Zagat "street teams" go into selected markets as well.

The Baltimore excursion will start with an expected 45-minute trolley stop in Hampden, starting at around noon. The trolley is being provided by Visit Baltimore and the street teams work for Zagat. The trolley will be set up so that people can take the survey there, Cadrecha said.

"They bring their own survey team," said Susannah Siger, owner of the store Ma Petite Shoe, on West 36th Street (The Avenue), which specializes in shoes and chocolates. "They take this very seriously."

Ma Petite Shoe is one of 96 stores listed on the online survey. Others in Hampden and Woodberry include Atomic Books, Baltimore Bicycle Works, Doubledutch Boutique, Howl, Hunting Ground, In Watermelon Sugar, Minas, Sixteen Tons, Trohv, The Turnover Shop and The Wine Source.

Roland Park stores on the list include The Children's Bookstore, Eddie's of Roland Park, Love Me Two Times, Redeux Consignment Shop, Ruth Shaw, Shananigans Toy Shop and The Store Ltd.

Mount Washington stores on the list include Bonjour, O'Malley Antiques, E.N. Oliver, Falls Road Running Store, The Ivy Bookshop, Princeton Sports and Woolworks.

Other businesses of note in Baltimore on the list include The Women's Industrial Exchange in Mount Vernon, Wells Discount Liquors on York Road, The Sound Garden in Fells Point, South Moon Under in Harbor East, Second Chance in west Baltimore and H&S Bakery in Fells Point.

Some store in Baltimore County also make the list, including Mano Swarz Furs in Brooklandville and Radcliffe Jewelers in Towson and Pikesville.

Highly rated stores will receive the same plaques to display as restaurants and hotels get, Tim Zagat said.

Zagat officials originally planned to do the man on the street surveys at the Towson Town Center mall, on the theory that they should go where the most shoppers were. But Visit Baltimore convinced them to go into "retail-rich neighborhoods" in Baltimore, Warfield said..

It was not immediately known what stores in Hampden the street teams would stop into.

Hampden's business community is trying to take advantage of the promotional opportunity.

"We're working on turning it into some sort of Hampden Day," said Benn Ray, co-owner of Atomic Books and president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, which discussed the upcoming Zagat visit at its monthly meeting Jan. 8.

The merchants will have only a short time to make a good impression with the survey takers.

"I think they're going to be, like, wham bam, they're gone," said Siger.

Siger said some younger people who have heard about Zagat coming know little about the company and have asked her if it is like Yelp, a newer, similar service.

"I say Zagat is the original Yelp," Siger said.