Seven county businesses have agreed to sponsor participants in the Bel Air July 4th Parade to defray the $35,000 cost of putting on the parade and fireworks.

In return, the sponsoring businesses hope to get plenty of exposure with the hundreds of parade and fireworks watchers.

Michael Blum, publicity coordinator for the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, a non-profit group organizing the parade, said the committee decided this year to seek sponsorship of the parade and fireworks because of the high cost of the events. "The sponsorship will getmore than a warm feeling inside. They'll get recognition," said Blum.

In the past, businesses were asked for cash donations in exchange for having their name printed in the parade program guide. At this parade, sponsors will earn even more publicity by having their names on banners carried by sponsored parade participants.

As of last week, the seven businesses had pledged a total of $7,500 for various participants. Three more businesses are considering sponsoring two moreparade features at a cost of $9,500, said Blum.

"We not only do business in this town, we live here and our children go to school here," said Howard Klein, vice president and legal counsel for Klein's Super Thrift, one of the sponsors.

Klein's Super Thrift agreed to sponsor $500 for a band to be chosen by the parade committee.

In exchange for its pledge, a Klein's Super Thrift banner will be carried in the parade.

"I don't know what kind of an impact it will have onour public image," said Klein, adding that the store is also paying for a commercial vehicle that will be included in the parade.

"My kids adore the parade," Klein said. "We were going to go away for theweekend, but we decided not to because the kids enjoy the parade."

Other businesses that have agreed to sponsor the parade are the BelAir New Car Dealers, Forest Hill Bank, Household Bank, Bel Air Athletic Club, York Federal and Joan Ryder, a Prudential real estate agent.

Russell Cullum, senior executive vice president of Forest Hill Bank, said sponsoring a specific activity will do more to boost the image of the bank than donating money.

"We can participate in the parade, and of course we will get exposure," Cullum said.

The commercial float the bank previously entered in the parade was too expensive to maintain. "Now, we can contact more people in the community and add entertainment to the parade," Cullum said.

Cullum predicted more businesses will sponsor activities next year.

Benny C. Walker, president of the parade committee, said press releases and letters were used to solicit businesses to sponsor parade participants. He hopes all current sponsors will participate again next year and that somenational companies with Harford offices, such as Merry-Go-Round and Frito-Lay, will join the bandwagon.

The parade, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of Route 24 and U.S. 1, will last until about 8:30 p.m. or 9. It will consist of 15 bands, antique cars, clowns and other features. The parade route ends at Bel Air High School, where fireworks will begin around 9 p.m. This year, the fireworks will be conducted by a regional company, Fireworks Productions Inc., from Glen Rock, Pa., at a cost of $10,000.

"This is the largest amount ever spent on fireworks in Bel Air," said Blum. "The evening will see a half- hour of constant, beautiful special fireworks effects." The finale will last for two minutes and consist of 240 shells.

Walker said the parade committee decided to go with smaller firm because "wefelt that the large national companies with whom we've dealt with inthe past few years regarded us as less important than some of their really big shows, such as the Statue of Liberty dedication."

Blum said an area business is considering donating $7,000 specifically forthe fireworks. If the company decides not to sponsor the fireworks, a surplus from last year's parade fund will be used to pay for them.

Walker said the rest of the parade is being subsidized by private donations of $50 to $100, as well as by contributions from community groups such as the Lions, Jaycees, Kiwanis, Rotary and American Legion. The town of Bel Air also contributed a $5,000 grant.

Dennis Patton, parade co-chairman, said all area school bands will be admitted into the parade. Out-of-town bands are also being solicited.

Although the exact number of participants was unavailable as of last week,organizers are trying to keep the parade at the same size as last year's so that it can conclude before the fireworks begin.

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