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Expo encourages Thurmont to buy local

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(4/3) Teens wearing lacrosse practice apparel trickled into the main Catoctin High School gymnasium Friday afternoon, and made a beeline for a table laden with cookies and chocolate fudge pirouettes.

The sweets were giveaways at a quickly erected display advertising the Main Street coffee shop Cool Beans. The stand was among about 80 at the Thurmont Economic Development Committee’s fourth annual Thurmont Business Expo, held Friday. The expo serves the mission of the committee, which is to promote businesses established in the 21788 ZIP code and to encourage residents there to buy local goods and services.

‘‘Our expo is oriented toward the residents, to expose the strong economic base of Thurmont," committee chairwoman Vickie Grinder said. Grinder said 14 new businesses, many of them in-home operations, participated Friday, ‘‘which is very encouraging, despite the current economy conditions."

During the expo, athletes swatted tennis balls behind the school while on the other side of the building, vehicles from the Thurmont Community Ambulance Service backed up to the door of the auxiliary gymnasium to deliver tubs of apple cobbler samples and giveaway stuffed animals.

The rest of Thurmont’s business community, whether representing huge companies such as Nationwide or small family businesses such as the interior decorator Heart and Hands, arrived at the expo in cars and vans as the sun dropped over nearby Catoctin Mountain. The Economic Development Committee decorated with red, white and blue balloons and pennants – members chose Americana as the theme, over western and 1950s and 1960s, because of this year’s presidential election, Grinder said. The event cost $550 to put on, she added Tuesday.

Pamela Hamrick of Thurmont and her associate, Gary Smith, hung silk and cotton drapery samples, which Hamrick had hand-stitched in her shop, Heart and Hands, last week. Smith had forged the iron curtain rods.

Hamrick moved her shop from Middletown to Main Street Thurmont this year. She has been sewing since she was 10 years old, she said, and had made the samples solely for the expo.

‘‘I wanted to make sure they’ve got an idea of what choices they have," she said. ‘‘What I’m going to do with them afterwards, I don’t know."

The point of the expo is to show Thurmont residents and outside visitors the diversity of goods and services available in town, and to encourage people to ‘‘buy local," Grinder said last week.

Each participating business paid $25 for a spot on the floor demarked by strips of blue tape. Participants could decorate and present as they wished, but most settled for a face-to-face tutorial, a pamphlet and a business card.

Thurmont’s expo is one of at least two held annually in Frederick County, according to Jessica Hibbard, communications director for the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, which has more than 800 business members, holds its annual expo at the Holiday Inn near FSK Mall each September. It’s mostly a business-to-business event, and it ‘‘draws hundreds of people," Hibbard said Tuesday.

Hibbard said expos give businesses a chance to show, rather than ‘‘pitch," their work to potential customers.

‘‘It’s like a networking event on steroids," she said. ‘‘At an expo, if you’re an exhibitor, you have an opportunity to showcase your business more visually."

The Economic Development Committee organized the town’s first business expo in 2005, the same year Thurmont joined Main Street Maryland. Attendance has doubled since the first expo, which was held at the Edwin C. Creeger Jr. American Legion Post 168, according to organizers. Since 2006, the expos have taken place at the high school.

William H. Blakeslee, Thurmont’s chief administrative officer, and a committee founder in 2003, said Monday that the event attracted more than 1,500 visitors.

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