Fourth of July parades are a little bit of everything that defines an American community — bands, veterans, fire engines, dancers and, yes, politicians. The parades held on the nation's most patriotic holiday instill pride and provide a link to the past. We leave them glowing.

Yet, we are also leaving them lately with a handful of coupons, handbills and business cards that were given out along the parade route by businesses with units in the parade. Some of these parade units are little more than rolling billboards for commercial enterprises making little, if any, effort at embracing the theme of the day. To some, it's more about brand enhancement than patriotism.


We raise this issue not to criticize the hardworking committees whose work begins, literally, on July 5 to start preparing for the next year. The most important — and toughest — part of that preparation is fundraising. These parades in Baltimore County receive no county (taxpayer) funds.

The fact is, businesses pay to be in the parades. And organizers say the revenue they provide is crucial. But that doesn't necessarily mean we should overlook the overcommercialization of the event.

Two key questions are whether parade committees can increase the fees they charge businesses to participate in the parade and whether parade units can be compelled to show the patriotic spirit of the day by the decoration or motifs they display.

As to the first question, the Parade Committee in Towson charges nonprofits $50 and for-profits $125 to participate. The Catonsville committee, on the other hand, charges a flat $200 to all businesses, but offers discounts down to $50 if an advertisement is taken out in the parade booklet. We think these committees could take a cue from each other — perhaps Towson could raise its fees and Catonsville could have fees that distinguish between nonprofit and for-profit businesses, with for-profits paying more.

This could have the twin benefits of raising more money and ensuring that businesses that participate see it more as a chance to show their patriotism and community participation than as a low-cost marketing tool.

As for the unit displaying patriotic pride in keeping with the day, the committees have rules about this. The rules are obeyed in some places more than others, and we recognize it's hard to enforce when you have dozens and dozens of parade units ready to step off. We just mention to the committees that it's noticed when a business mostly wants its phone number seen.

We do not want to add to the burden taken on by the parade volunteers, but only offer suggestions.

And that includes this suggestion — put an end to the handing out of business cards, promotional materials and dollars-off coupons by those marching in a parade celebrating the spirit of America. It's not only tacky, it's unsafe.