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Cash registers whirring as economy slowly revives

Monday - 3/5/2012, 2:00am  ET

Hunting Creek Outfitters retail (Frederick News Post)
Peter Greenleaf, left, of Bethesda, gears up for a trip to Brazil to fish for peacock bass in the Amazon. Murray Friedman assists him with his purchases Wednesday afternoon at Hunting Creek Outfitters in Frederick. (Frederick News-Post/Travis Pratt)

National reports of a recovering economy seem to be reflected at local cash registers in downtown Frederick.

Some merchants are seeing an increase in foot traffic into their businesses, but they also worry that increasing gas prices could limit or stop any sign of recovery.

A survey released Tuesday by a private research group reflected a more upbeat attitude for the nation as the economy picks up, according to The Associated Press. The nation is far from a full economic recovery but optimism has risen, the AP said.

Business has been rising steadily over the past year at Dancing Bear & Toys on North Market Street in downtown Frederick, business owner Tom England said.

Compared to last year, business is up by 48 percent year to date and from 2010 to 2011, business increased by 25 percent.

England attributes more business to an increase in consumer confidence.

"Everyone is a little more confident about spending," England said. "Momentum in the housing market is a good sign that the economy is picking up, but it all boils down to consumer confidence."

Sales have been gradual but steady at McGuire Fine Arts in downtown Frederick over the past 18 months, General Manager Jon Thames said.

"I think people who were hunkered down got tired of the constant bad news and decided to start shopping again," Thames said. "I don't think the recession was as deep for us as it was in other areas."

If business partners Angelique Hoffman and Saule Smariga had paid attention to the "doom and gloom" from economic analysts, amplified by sensationalized news reports, they wouldn't be in business today, Hoffman said.

Not only did Smariga and Hoffman open Silk & Burlap when the economy wasn't great, they expanded the vintage and modern goods store about a year ago and the business is growing, Hoffman said.

"We're seeing a really nice increase in our sales and our growth is steady," Hoffman said. "People tend to overreact to reports from market analysts and the media have a tendency to blow it out of proportion."

Frederick is receiving media attention as a destination with a lot to offer, and as a result, many of Silk & Burlap's customers come from Baltimore and Washington, Hoffman said.

The numbers are up over the same time last year at Hunting Creek Outfitters, but co-owner Murray Friedman said he is not about to say the economy is fixed.

The increase in foot traffic into downtown stores might have more to do with unusually mild winter temperatures, which gets people out of the house, Friedman said. "We hope the trend continues," he said.

Several merchants said the rise in gas prices could be a positive or a negative for business.

"Things are looking better, but I have concerns that if consumers have to pay $80 to fill up their tank versus $60, that's fewer bucks they have to spend in my store or someone else's store," Hoffman said.

Alternately, higher gas prices could mean more people will choose to stay at home or make day trips into local stores, Hoffman said.