A small Annapolis shopping district is trying to relinquish its status as a well-kept secret.

New bright-pink banners along Rowe Boulevard trumpet the little shopping area's presence. The splashy type announces the Village of West Annapolis Shopping District — an updated name to go with the new look.

The idea is to spark more interest in a quiet shopping area that looks like a step back in time, said Lynne Sherlock, president of the 39-member West Annapolis Business Affiliation and owner of Tara's Gifts and Parties of Distinction,

"The shops are unique. They are different," Sherlock said. "They are small, creative, niche businesses."

The business organization has recently begun to give out its new hot-pink brochure and cards at hotels in hopes of pulling in more visitors who want to see an area of the city that is a little off the beaten path, Sherlock said.

The planned expansion of the Circulator, the free trolley in the city, is expected to include West Annapolis, which Sherlock said will make it easier for tourists who are downtown to come out for a half-day.

There are antique shops, gift stores and clothing stores — though this is not the shopping district to visit for people on the prowl for souvenir T-shirts. One store boasts that it has the largest collection of quilting fabrics in the state. Many, Sherlock said, are stores that can't afford the downtown area's higher rents but have a following in part because they offer services and products that are out of the ordinary.

The shops and salons are in houses that were converted to stores; some have apartments upstairs and a shop on the first floor. Most of the stores lie along Annapolis Street, but the business organization also includes spas, restaurants and offices on adjacent streets. The businesses generally draw substantially from the surrounding residential community.

For a long time, West Annapolis was the little sibling to the Historic District. But Sherlock said that has changed in recent years.

"Two years ago, we revived our Main Street program, which had been dormant for a couple of years," Mayor Joshua Cohen said.

"It's the MainStreets Annapolis Partnership now," he said, and it includes traditional communities beyond Main Street.

"A lot of locals, they may come [to West Annapolis] for Oktoberfest, but a lot of folks haven't really discovered the shops for shopping year round. Or the restaurants," he said.

The business organization this year added a Cinco de Mayo Festival in early May and a flea market in late June, both of which proved successful, Sherlock said. The Oktoberfest, more than two decades old, draws more than 140 vendors and is packed.

Parking is not much of a problem, but traffic sometimes is.

The city is about to embark on a $70,000 traffic study, most of it paid for with federal grants, to examine backups through West Annapolis, Cohen said. Beach-bound traffic often backs up onto Annapolis Street on summertime Friday afternoons as motorists seek to avoid part of the eastbound U.S. 50 slowdown by cutting through the neighborhood.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com