Downtown Annapolis gets boost from legislators

ANNAPOLIS — The legislative season has arrived, giving downtown businesses a chance to woo lawmakers with everything from coffee to crab cakes.

Traditionally, the 90-day session gives area business owners a financial bridge between the holidays and the start of tourist season. By the time lawmakers leave in the spring, businesses can depend on warmer temperatures to bring in more foot traffic stemming from recreation and boating activities.

For now, the lawmakers and their staffs need to be fed, clothed and entertained during the week. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s and Calvert, are known to frequent Galway Bay Irish Restaurant and Pub on Maryland Avenue. On Main Street, Chick and Ruth’s Delly often serves Sen. E.J. Pipkin, D-Queen Anne’s, and Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel.

“That January, February, March, winter months (of the session), that’s when you see people,” said Ted Levitt, owner of Chick and Ruth’s. “They keep us alive during the session. We try to cater to them just because of that.”

On West Street, Cafe Ole tends to get more of the legislative staff as opposed to lawmakers. It causes a delicate balance between serving coffee to the newfound customers who come once a year, and the regulars who spend three months searching harder for a parking space.

“You can see the difference,” owner Claudia Hassan said. “When Christmas and the holidays come, it gets kind of slow. By the time the General Assembly comes, we are so ready to see more people. It does increase business.”

The staff at Chick and Ruth’s caters to the lawmaking crowd, literally. Aside from the sandwiches named after state, county and local officials, the delicatessen also gets a boost in its catering calls during this time. This week, their workers will be at the State House, Lowe House Office and Miller Senate buildings handing out new catering brochures and takeout menus. The new brochure features crab cakes and crab balls.

Over the years, Levitt has developed a rapport with his legislative customers, but he tries to make sure their meals are free of political discussions. He tells the staff not to talk to them about bills, unless it’s to give a quick compliment. Levitt, a gun collector, could easily talk about his feelings about the state’s approach to gun control, but he won’t do that over lunch.

“As strongly as I feel about it, I won’t approach them when they’re come in; they’re coming in to have a good time,” Levitt said. “They’re not coming in for me to bend their ear. If I need to bend their ear, I need to go do it on my own time.”

Some businesses get greater crowds, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into dollars. The session brings in more foot traffic to Laurance Clothing, but it is not as big of a boost as the food establishments, Manager Chance Walgran said. From time to time, lobbyists or staffers stop in to the men’s clothier to buy ties or other clothing.

“It’s certainly not a negative thing,” Walgran said. “It brings people and we do do some business as a result. We’d rather have it. We’re glad it’s here. It’s good for the town.”

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