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Stores shop for shoppers


WESTMINSTER -- If the 30,000 people who ride The EnterTRAINment Line through the city every year knew more about the business district, they might stay and shop, says the line's president.

"If I were a merchant in Westminster, I'd be somehow trapping these people," Gus Novotny said. "We're bringing people with money to spend. I hate to see people leave my operation with money in their pockets."

Yesterday, 15 business owners and managers talked about how to attract these potential customers and others who will come to the Wal-Mart store, scheduled to open in November at the Englar Business Park.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown invited 25 people to the meeting at the Comfort Inn to generate ideas on how merchants can work together to improve Christmas sales. The gathering was called "Marketing Westminster: 1990s and Beyond."

"We'll get out of this recession faster in Westminster if we climb out of it," Mr. Brown said.

He suggested that merchants with businesses downtown and on Route 140 should take out newspaper advertisements together to explain where the shopping areas are and the diversity of shops available.

"We could market Route 140 as a mall," Mr. Brown said. "The future of Westminster is retail."

Shane White, past president of the Westminster Business Association, suggested putting a billboard on the outskirts of the city.

Kathi McAvoy, marketing manager at Cranberry Mall, said the new Wal-Mart will bring more shoppers from other areas, specifically from Howard County where there is no Wal-Mart. The mall plans to advertise there, she said.

Wal-Mart will bring shoppers in, and "we have to find a way to keep them," said Helen Utz, executive director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.

Leggett Manager R. Steven Stewart said he would be interested in advertising with other merchants. "The effort would be well worthwhile," he said.

Weis Market manager Tony Poist agreed and said his company participated in a similar effort in Pennsylvania. "I think we can go to work on this," he said.

Group members agreed to meet at City Hall in two weeks to discuss details of a cooperative advertising effort.

"We've got a job to do here," Mr. Brown said. "And we'll go a lot further if we do it together."

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