From the charm of boutiques and galleries along the streets of historic Annapolis to the lure of bargain-hunting at local malls -- and the glitz and bustle of Arundel Mills -- the merchants of Anne Arundel County are quick to promote the area's retail diversity.
"Shopping is an experience here," said Melanie Suggs, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau. "So much of it occurs in unique places, and everything is easy to get to. There are pockets of shopping all over the county, and our choices are growing."
South of Parole is the Annapolis Harbour Center with retailers including Whole Foods Market, South Moon Under and Boaters World.
The busy commercial stretch of Ritchie Highway is home to Glen Burnie Mall and Marley Station. And new businesses are springing up in Edgewater to provide services to the growing area south of Annapolis.
"Anne Arundel County has it all -- from the historical beauty of downtown Annapolis to one-stop 'shoppertainment' at Arundel Mills and everything in between," said Alexis Henderson, vice president of corporate communications for Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
In Annapolis, retailers strive for a festive atmosphere on the historic streets year-round. More than 300 hanging baskets and sidewalk planters overflow with flowers in warmer weather. Trees twinkle with white lights in the winter. Maryland flags wave in celebration during the legislative session.
"Annapolis was designed to be best appreciated on foot," said Jan Hardesty, public information officer for the city. "The pedestrian experience of shopping in the downtown district is so delightful."
Shoppers will find galleries, jewelry and craft stores along Main Street and the City Dock area, among them Zachary's Jewelers, an upscale Main Street bridal store that also offers designer lines of jewelry.
"We have the greatest outdoor mall in the country," said Steve Samaras, owner of Zachary's Jewelers and vice president of the Annapolis Business Association. "Annapolis is a mix of maritime, historic, retail and hospitality interests. It is literally the most beautiful city."
Outside the historic district are the antiques stores of West Annapolis. West Street is the arts and entertainment district. And Maryland Avenue and State Circle have designer clothing, home decor and specialty stores as well as galleries.
"Maryland Avenue is a hidden gem, with an eclectic mix of independently owned businesses," said Annebeth Santin, owner of Annebeth's, a specialty foods, beer and wine shop that also offers rentals of classic and foreign films. Santin is president of the Maryland Avenue and State Circle Business Association.
Shopping excursions can be combined with historic house and garden tours or boat rides. After shopping, visitors can enjoy restaurants, pubs and entertainment that includes a jazz club and theatrical performances.
"Annapolis is a full day of experiences," Hardesty said. "There's a real sense of downtown here."
In the northern part of the county, in the Hanover area, is Arundel Mills, which strives to combine shopping with entertainment.
Arundel Mills has more than 200 retailers, restaurants and entertainment-oriented businesses along the shopping avenues within its 1.3 million square feet of mall space.
Those businesses include Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, which has a 30,000-gallon, stocked aquarium, a 40-foot climbing wall, wildlife exhibits and a children's shooting gallery. Billed as "a sportsman's paradise," the store sells boats that are on display and gear for fishing, archery, hunting, camping and boating.
In addition to outlet stores, Arundel Mills includes "interactive retailers" such as Crayola Works, where shoppers can create works of art while shopping for art supplies. Jillian's offers entertainment and dining, with a video cafe and bar, electronic simulation games, billiards, bowling and a dance club.
The mall even boasts a bit of history with decor from the ancient world at the Muvico Egyptian 24 Theaters. A coming attraction, the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, will bring feasting, pageantry, horsemanship and jousting to the mall. It is to open this summer.
Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis -- known to some locally as Annapolis Mall -- has been a fixture in Anne Arundel County since it became an enclosed mall in 1980.
Today, it is billed as a super-regional center with more than 170 specialty stores, 14 food court tenants, about 10 restaurants, an 11-screen movie theater and five major department stores: Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Sears, Hecht's and J.C. Penney. A two-story Borders Books & Music has been a popular addition since it opened a few years ago.
"It's a very relaxing place to come," said Alisha Rogers, marketing coordinator for Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis. "We've got a wonderful retail mix, and we are dedicated to working with the community, holding community events and making this a very family-oriented place. But most important, we strive to offer superior customer service that you are not going to get at any other place."
Outside the Annapolis area, Ritchie Highway (Route 2) is one of the county's main shopping arteries, lined with discount, specialty and home necessities stores. Along the route is Marley Station, a regional shopping mall that has Macy's and several other department stores, as well as 130 specialty shops, restaurants and movie theaters.
Also on Route 2 is Glen Burnie Mall, which recently was acquired by Petrie Ventures Inc. Planning is under way to update the mall, according to Walt Petrie, chairman of Petrie Ventures. The retail development company has plans to add a national anchor to the mall directory in the near future and change the name of the mall to The Centre at Glen Burnie.