Turnout low, optimism high in 2 chambers' trade show


Hundreds of business people traded cards, sought out new clients and hunted down leads Friday in the first joint trade show between the Annapolis and West County chambers of commerce.

Company presidents, sales people and assistants manning some of the 60 booths at The Great Business Exchange at Loews Annapolis Hotel blamed the rain for what some saw as a poor turnout.

But others said the show, sponsored by the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce and the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, gave them invaluable exposure that could boost business.

"This helps the small businesses of the community," said Betty Wells, owner of Academy Imprints in Severna Park, which sells commercial promotional and advertising items. "It's hard fighting the big boys."

Wells, who displayed her items in attention-grabbing hot pink, said such shows are crucial, especially in a poor economy.

"Your competition is here, so you still need to be here," she said. "You meet an awful lot of people."

That can be even more important for new companies, said

several at the show in business for less than a year. They took advantage of the special $250 booth rate, half off the regular rate of $495.

One was la baguette, an Annapolis bread distributor handing out samples of sourdough, raisin pecan and chocolate cherry bread.

"For a new business establishing ourselves, you've got to get out there and announce yourself," said Julie Lagoey, marketing vice president.

N. Scott Gardiner, senior vice president of the 1,000-member Annapolis chamber, said the group invited the West County chamber to co-host the annual event to bring in more business.

"West County area is becoming more and more of an impact area on the county, in terms of economics," said Gardiner, adding that the West County group added about a dozen exhibitors to the show.

The show offered companies in the 190-member West County chamber a chance to go after business in Annapolis, said Marcia Hall, executive director. The group has never organized its own trade show, she said.

"For our members, it's important to promote ourselves in other areas of the county," she said. "Our members want to do business countywide."

The number of exhibitors -- including banks, retailers, travel agencies, office product suppliers, computer software specialists, a magician performing card tricks and a chiropractic office -- dropped to 60 from about 72 last year at the Holiday Inn on Riva Road, and from a peak 95 in the past, Gardiner said.

He attributed the drop in part to the recession, but mainly to the move to a smaller facility. The chamber chose Loews because its layout allowed for better flow of walk-through traffic than the Holiday Inn, he said.

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