1948 was indeed an eventful year for the United States, Maryland and a dedicated group of merchants who had the foresight to see the need for a new organization to deal with the political and economic changes occurring in the post war years.
Harry Truman won the Presidency with his famous come from behind whistle stop campaign, but lost Maryland to Republican Tom Dewey by 8,000 votes. It was the year Algar Hiss was indicted and the Berlin Blockade was instituted. The State of Israel came into existence, Mahatma Gandi was assassinated and the Marshall Plan was announced. The top song was Red Roses For A Blue Lady and the Polaroid camera was invented. Milk sold for $.87 a gallon and gasoline for $.16 a gallon. The federal installment credit law was enacted.
Marylanders like their fellow Americans were seeking economic stability and prosperity after the years of the Great Depression and then World War II. Construction would soon start on the Bay Bridge, but Columbia and Harborplace were not even a gleam in Jim Rouse’s eye. And a little known State Senator from Calvert County had just the year before successfully sponsored legislation creating the state sales tax.
Maryland’s population stood at 1,821,224 with Baltimore City accounting for 859,000. Street cars traveled down a bustling Howard Street which was the State’s retail center with its concentration of department and specialty stores. Retailing also flourished in smaller cities and outlying towns like Annapolis, Cambridge, Cumberland, Elkton, Frederick, Hagerstown, Rockville, Salisbury, Silver Spring, Towson and Westminster. Main Street downtowns and neighborhood shopping districts were the retailing hubs. Maryland had not yet seen its first mall or regional shopping center.
Somewhat spurred by the success of that little known State Senator from Calvert County and the post war developments just beginning to change the face of retailing, merchants started discussing the need for a statewide organization to give the industry a statewide presence. These discussions took a decisive turn when on a bright sunny late summer day. The Special Committee of the Retail Merchants Association of Baltimore met with merchants “from the counties” on September 1 at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore. Led by Sam Hecht of Baltimore and Bob Black of Silver Spring, the merchants decided to form a statewide organization. The Certification of Incorporation was filed on November 17 as the Council of Retail Merchants and the first board meeting was held November 26 again at the Lord Baltimore. Odello Leiter of Hagerstown was elected chairman and Sam Hecht vice-chairman. And so Maryland merchants started this new endeavor which continues today.
Much has changed since 1948 including name changes to the Maryland Retail Merchants Association in 1968 and the Maryland Retailers Association in 1995. Sandwiched between was the move from Baltimore to Annapolis in 1985 underscoring MRA’s statewide focus and giving the industry a permanent presence in the State Capital.
MRA’s services have greatly expanded since 1948 to stay abreast of the needs of its members. MRA continues today as a contemporary organization well aware of the rapid technological and economic changes shaping today’s retail marketplace. Government relation and legislative advocacy, however, remain the hallmark of MRA. In reviewing MRA history, it is amazing to see how constant this purpose has remained. The words of then Chairman Atlee Wampler in 1954 still ring true today: “From indications, both National and Local, it is becoming evident that business as a whole and retailing specifically, will be subject to numerous legislative onslaughts… bill’s effecting business are being defeated… they will be introduced and re-introduced and business must be on the alert. Apathy…must be tossed aside and an active, aggressive interest in national and local legislation submitted.”
The Maryland Retailers Association (MRA) consists of thousands of retailers across the state. As the retail community’s major trade association, MRA is a diverse and broad based organization covering all segments of the retail industry. Additionally, MRA manages both the Maryland – Delaware – Washington, D.C. Jewelers Association, the Maryland Chain Drug Store Association and the Maryland Food Dealers Council.
Operating under the belief that merchants can achieve more as a group than any one merchant acting alone, MRA is dedicated solely to the interests of the retail community. Whether it be advocating before elected officials or speaking to the media, MRA is the voice of retail in Maryland.
Beyond advocacy and public relations, MRA offers members discounted benefit services such as workers compensation plans, an electric cooperative, shipping, free membership with the National Retail Federation and much more. These services save operating dollars and give members a competitive edge.