Catonsville business owners optimistic despite lagging economy

Sally Griffin says the energy flowing through Catonsville helps keep store fronts full and small businesses relatively successful during a rough economic period.

Griffin, the president of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, said the energy comes from the residents' support of their community.

"The community is behind all the businesses. They come and utilize whatever the business is," Griffin said. "Catonsville has been doing so well. I think we're different than a lot of areas. We keep doing better."

Griffin noted that Catonsville rarely has vacant office space available for long periods of time.

"If there are vacant spots, people just want to jump in and take over," said Griffin, a Catonsville resident. "The fact that we have businesses that want to move into Catonsville is an indication that Catonsville is doing well."

Mary Chizmadia knows the feeling, having owned the Candy Box store on Frederick Road for 23 years before moving to New Mexico with her son, Ken, in 2007 to help her daughter raise her three children.

They returned in 2011 and opened Ken's Old Fashioned Candy Shop on Frederick Road in the fall.

Chizmadia said the positive response from the community over the holiday has her considering hiring for the Valentine's Day and Easter rushes.

"There's always been wonderful support (in Catonsville), even when we had the Candy Box all those years," Chizmadia said.

"We had intended on coming back: It was just a matter of when," she said. "I wouldn't leave here for anything."

Teal Cary, executive director of the chamber, said the new businesses popping up primarily come from Catonsville residents reinvesting in their own community.

"Catonsville has a really strong foundation of families that love living here," Cary said, noting the area's schools and variety of activities offered for recreation and entertainment. "Catonsville has a lot going for it because it is such a strong community."

House of Time has operated in the Catonsville area since 1969, two years before the birth of Jon McCabe, 40, who owns the store with his mother, Brenda; and wife, Tasha.

In July, McCabe moved the store from its longtime location on Baltimore National Pike to 701 Frederick Road, a site McCabe lauded for its high visibility.

McCabe described business since the move as fair, as people continue to learn about his new location.

Improved infrastructure and the work of the chamber of commerce give McCabe reason to believe that 2012 will be a good year for the businesses on Frederick Road.

"A boatload of work has been done down here to make it easier for people to get around — as far as re-doing the roads," McCabe said. "The chamber of commerce has done a good job to get more people to Frederick Road.

"I think it's going to be a lot better."

The chamber attempts to foster the growth of Catonsville businesses through advertising, networking events and annual community events such as the annual Catonsville Arts and Crafts Festival in the fall, the Taste of Catonsville in the spring and free weekly concerts Fridays in the summer.

For 2012, the chamber is considering a new event that, Cary said, tells people "Winter's over. Spring's here. Come back to the village."

She said the chamber will host an inaugural flower sale, likely on Egges Lane the first Sunday of May.

While events like the flower sale and Friday evening concerts are designed to bring people to the village to shop along Frederick Road, Griffin has her eye on expanding beyond Catonsville's Main Street.

By the end of 2012, the chamber aims to up its membership from 324 to 350, Griffin said.

The chamber plans to expand its membership by increasing the size of its Economic Development Committee and the scope of its search, Griffin said.

Upon becoming president of the chamber last year, Griffin said she intended to focus on encouraging the businesses near Baltimore National Pike to join.

Those businesses, Griffin said, had fair success in 2011 and have shown greater participation in the chamber.

"I think it's going to be better than 2011," Griffin said. "I almost feel as if 2011 was an adjustment period. We're in tough times, and now, we know they're going to stay tough times."

Though not a member of the chamber of commerce, Bill Ginsburg shares Griffin's cautious optimism.

Ginsburg and his wife, Sue, have owned Leather Interiors on Baltimore National Pike for 18 years and saw sales remain flat between 2010 and 2011, he said.

A slight bump in sales this year wouldn't surprise him. But that increase would be due to the economy taking a toll on his competitors.

"There's a whole lot less competition selling the product we sell," Ginsburg said, whose store sells fine furniture. "A lot of our competitors have disappeared and continue to."

Leather Interiors weathered the storm, Ginsburg said, by doing more direct mailings and cutting expenses.

The store's location near the Baltimore and Howard county line also helped, as it is a convenient location for customers from the two affluent areas on each side of the Patapsco River, Ginsburg reasoned.

Still Ginsburg has tempered expectations, as have many others in his field.

"I'm mildly optimistic," he said about an improvement in 2012. "I happen to network with dealers in other cities. We all feel mildly optimistic."

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