Merchants in Glen Burnie's core are starting an organization they hope can influence redevelopment of the Superblock and win support from the county.
So far, about 12 shopkeepers are committed to forming an association, said Chuck Parlato, owner of the Arundel Computers store facing the Superblock -- the last major tract in downtown Glen Burnie still to be developed.
The purpose of the group would be "to have a concerted voice into all the things that are going on -- and certainly all the things that are not going on -- in the Glen Burnie core area," he said.
Store owners hope the association also will give them a forum to share ideas and help themselves. About 20 had joined in a cable television commercial and flier advertisement over the recent holidays, which Mr. Parlato said shows that the shopkeepers can work cooperatively.
Merchants say they have not gotten enough attention from the county in the past. Only last year did they get representation on the Glen Burnie Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, when one merchant was appointed.
Despite the disintegration of a previous retailers association, they hope they can get more attention from the county by speaking in a unified voice.
"The whole idea of a merchants' group is that there has to be some kind of representation for the merchants trying to survive in the Urban Renewal District," said Bill Sarro, owner of Scuba Hut, whose store on Delaware Avenue is a few shops away from Arundel Computers.
The decision to organize came in the weeks leading up to the meeting scheduled today between the downtown merchants and Ardath Cade, chief of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.
Invitations went to 87 store owners, said Patricia Barland, commercial revitalization manager for the county.
The meeting is geared toward soliciting opinions on the Superblock from nearby merchants -- forums for the community and developers were held last fall -- and trying to re-establish goodwill between the county and store owners.
Owners of the small and varied stores say it's tough to survive in competition with the many area malls and shopping centers, which offer greater customer convenience.
A Chinese restaurant, Szechuan Cafe, recently opened in the Towne Center shopping strip. But two downtown Glen Burnie stores, one facing the Superblock, have closed in the past two weeks.
Chesapeake Antiques, a 4-year-old antiques shop that moved in October from just north of the Superblock to Crain Highway by the corner of Central Avenue, closed at the end of December. That followed a rent dispute, said building owner Charles Schurman, president of the Charles Group Inc., who owns the two connecting buildings and now fills one of them with his home renovation company. Glen Golf & Games, across Delaware Avenue from the Superblock, closed last week after a nearly two-year struggle in its 9,220-square-foot building.
Merchants say the many empty storefronts in downtown Glen Burnie's core point to unresolved problems in the vicinity of the Superblock. Customer parking is insufficient; women often say the brick parking garage built to serve the area seems unsafe.
There is also little pedestrian traffic, as most of the surviving shops are either specialties bringing few browsers to the neighborhood.