Town wants to market its charms

Spend a day in Sykesville.

The idea is not so far-fetched, according to an Easton-based marketing consultant.


A town with two museums, a tourism center, a thriving Main Street, rustic walking trails, a quiet river and railroad history should bill itself as a tourist destination with old-time ambience.

"We have all the components," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We just have to pull them together into a successful package, and we'll be a tourist attraction."


Consultant Steve Moore offers new strategies for small towns such as Sykesville. He could help the town of 3,500 become Carroll County's version of Ellicott City or New Market. Moore toured Sykesville last week, meeting with officials and business leaders. He drew about 25 people to his seminar on "Creating the Small Town as an Experience."

"A lot of the new malls are trying to create an old-town feeling," Herman said. "We have the old town. It is just a matter of marketing it."

The mayor called Moore's message inspiring, one that impressed even naysayers. The visit was well-worth the $375 consultant's fee, Herman said.

"You can have people here on a mini-vacation," Moore said. "They will have an unfilled itinerary, and their pocketbooks will be more elastic."

Herman has asked Moore to submit a marketing proposal.

"If the proposal looks reasonable, we'll hire him," Herman said. "Even if we don't, he has already given us good direction."

Moore's walk around town began at a model train store on Main Street. While the shop is being remodeled, Wiley Purkey has decorated its prominent storefront with catalogs and pictures of model railroads. Purkey, who runs a frame shop next store, has lost count of the cars that stop and look at the makeshift display.

"I am convinced Sykesville can become the family shopping experience," he said.


Purkey is renovating the century-old building with a low-interest state loan available to small businesses. He will move his framing workshop into part of the building and open a gallery that might offer space to local artists.

Railroads figured into the town's founding and played a prominent role in its commercial development. Railroad passenger cars no longer stop in Sykesville, but freight trains run daily on tracks behind Main Street. The town railroad club has restored a Pullman car filled with railroad memorabilia and model displays. The town also owns two cabooses and is rebuilding a former switching tower, making it into a tourism center.

Baldwin's Station, an award-winning restaurant, is housed in a renovated train station. A short train trip is available for the youngest residents on a one-time carnival ride.

"This has got to become a must-see for 100 miles," Moore said.

But he found that the town has more than trains to offer. Its riverfront is its best and most underused asset, Moore said. Traffic can enter town from Route 32, a busy commuter route, travel a tree-lined country road and across the Patapsco River Bridge onto Main Street.

"A lot of towns would kill for the entrance you have," Moore said. "It breaks from the highway and opens up into a town."


Craig Taylor, a Main Street antiques shop owner and former president of Sykesville Business Association, said first impressions can be the most enduring.

"People come through my door and say 'wow,' and that's the way I want the town to look," Taylor said. "I want flowers on the streets and the windows washed. We need to give a better impression on Route 32. We have to be display-oriented, make what we have look even better."

The town has worked with Howard County to clear the Patapsco shoreline and is planning a park along the river.

A former employee of the Rouse Co., Moore draws on 15 years of experience with reviving downtowns.

"We learned why people come, and it was not for shopping alone," he said. "We are moving from a service economy to an economy based on experience."

Downtown Sykesville has no vacancies; the business association has grown from a few members to 40; and officials are committed to revitalization efforts. Moore offered tips on improving appearances on Main Street with plants and lighting.


"Everything he suggested is doable," Herman said.

In Sykesville, Moore saw thriving businesses, many with "artists creating their own things."

"The town has to manage that energy and keep it going," he said.

He suggested a monthly event that says "Sykesville" to visitors. It could coincide with the model railroad club's open house the first Sunday of the month. Local restaurants and shops could run specials and museums could open. Maybe the town could hire a concierge who could direct visitors to sites, he said.

"This is an important game, and everybody has to play," Moore said. "Commit yourself to 52 times, and see how it goes."