In the 15 years Pete Panselinos has co-owned the Lansdowne Inn, he has never seen economic times so hard, he said.
Panselinos, who owns the Hammonds Ferry Road inn with Gus Kimos, admitted last week that he is looking ahead to 2012 with optimism, only because he has to.
It's a sentiment many small business owners in the area no doubt share as the new year begins.
Key for all local businesses, Panselinos said, is support of people in the area.
"We need the community to stay behind us and help us," Panselinos said, noting his restaurant often donates food to community meetings. "Instead of going downtown for dinner, they can come here."
The restaurant, Panselinos said, has cut prices and added specials to draw customers.
About a year ago, the restaurant added breakfast on the weekends to its lunch and dinner offerings of seafood, sandwiches and American, German and Italian cuisine with some success, Panselinos noted.
"If people start going out more and spending more money, I believe we will get our share," he said.
The presidents of the Lansdowne and Arbutus business and professional associations, Charlie Kountz and Patti Sue Nolan, said they have seen a mix of wins and losses among the businesses in their respective groups.
They agreed with Panselinos that even the shops and restaurants with the best business models need a boost from their surroundings.
"I'm a great believer that we need to shop locally and support our local businesses," Kountz said. "It's going to be a long time before we get out of this hole we dug."
"You hear it from everywhere," Nolan said of the encouragement for residents to shop in the community. "From County Executive (Kevin Kamenetz) to even nationally, they preach shop locally."
One reason for optimism for Kountz comes from his wife, Elizabeth, who works in real estate and has seen a small resurgence in the housing market in the area.
"Anywhere you have moderate to affordable homes like you have in 21227, those homes are going to sell a whole lot quicker," Kountz said.
Ben Penrod, who opened Ben's Beans Acoustic Coffee House on Sulphur Spring Road in April of 2011, said he has noticed many people heeding that message.
"Most of the people we talk to, that's the first thing they say," said Penrod, who noted business fluctuates based on the time of year. "They'd rather support local businesses than go to a big chain store."
The local support is why Penrod said he is optimistic about his shop's fortunes in the new year.
Both the Lansdowne and the Arbutus business and professional associations provide members with advertising, opportunities to participate in networking events and monthly meetings to keep owners clued in on local happenings.
Though the Lansdowne Inn is not a member of either association, Penrod said he has seen advantages from membership. He said the ABPA has helped get his shop's name out in the community through word of mouth and by distributing fliers.
Both the LBPA and ABPA plans to enhance how they will continue to support its members in the new year.
The LBPA will unveil a new website (www.lbpaonline.com) that will feature video of local businesses, in the hopes of bringing more traffic to the site.
"(The website) will give exposure to the business itself," Kountz said. "Hopefully, it'll increase their bottom line."
Even though Kountz saw five new businesses join the LBPA since 2010, he said he hopes to increase that number again by targeting the industrial businesses at the end of Hollins Ferry Road.
In the past year, the Arbutus Business and Professional Association has added several new members to bring its total to 85, said President Patti Sue Nolan.
And despite the rocky economy In 2011, Nolan noted that not one member of the Arbutus group had to close and that vacant store fronts on East Drive, the main retail street in downtown Arbutus, were soon filled.
Given those successes, and a successful inaugural season of the weekly farmers market the association began in downtown Arbutus, Nolan looks forward to another productive year.
"I'm so excited about 2012. I just know it's going to be a turning year for Arbutus," she said. "I think you're going to see more new businesses opening in Arbutus."
The key, Nolan said, is to find businesses that offer unique services to the community.
"I would really love to have a bicycle repair shop and maybe a little hobby store, just higher quality things," Nolan said. "It definitely has the potential to grow."