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Business

Turns out, being cool can be exceptionally good for business

4/17/14 | By Josh Davis, Staff Writer

BERLIN– Businesses in “America’s Coolest Small Town” are bracing for an increase in traffic – and hopefully – in revenue following the recent designation from Budget Travel magazine.

Several area business owners and workers sounded off on their expectations during last Saturday’s Coolest Small Town Celebration in Berlin.

“I think it’s going to make opportunities for the town that the town is prepared for; it’s been prepared and I think that’s why it’s become America’s Coolest Small Town,” said Bryan Brushmiller, owner of Burley Oak Brewing Company. “The infrastructure is here, the restaurants are here and people are just starting to discover it.”

Austin Widdowson, owner of Re:Fresh Media, believes the designation will help validate local businesses.

“We’ve definitely lost work before because we’re not in a big city – we’re not in L.A. or New York – but there’s only one America’s Coolest Small Town,” he said. “I think it’s the community that always made this place what it is. Of all the places I’ve lived in my life I’ve never seen a community actually come together like this.”

Debbie Frene, owner of Victorian Charm, saw an immediate boost in her bottom line during the celebration.

“The turnout is fabulous,” she said. “We’ve almost had more people than we could handle. We’ve sold more than 200 T-shirts today, so we have no complaints at all.”

Many believe the initial increase in traffic is due largely to residents in bordering towns who are finally taking notice of their neighbor.

“I think it’s bringing a lot of people to this town that have never been here before – even locals who maybe live in Ocean Pines or Snow Hill who never think to come to Berlin,” said Blair Falck Parsons, owner of Ta Da. “In the last couple of weeks we’ve heard a lot of people say they were driving down Route 50 and saw the signs and said, ‘well, we have to go now, it’s America’s Coolest Small Town.’”

“It’s great to see people not only from Worcester County, but from other counties coming together to celebrate such a great accomplishment,” said Erin Bilenki, a bartender at Maryland Wine Bar. “I think it’s going to be good – a lot of people that didn’t know we were here stopped in today and we had a great day and we hope they’ll come back.”

“It’s awesome to bring people to a small town where people can find out what Berlin is all about,” said Mike Andrews, manager at Culver’s Antiques. “We’re kind of tucked away, off the road from Ocean City and Chincoteague and such, and I’m thinking we’ll get more people in the doors and maybe be able to support more businesses and more services.”

Sherry Gamble, owner of The Main Street Enchanted Tea Room, noted that while the increase in business is welcome, most of the regional and national coverage has failed to mention the fact that Berlin tends to be relatively slow during the winter.

“It was March and it was still snowing the week we were voted ‘Coolest Small Town,’” she said. “The next Wednesday there were people in town and hardly anything was open and I said, ‘what brings you down here?’ They were from Pennsylvania and the town next to them was the coolest small town last year, so they came down.

“The articles didn’t mention that this is a resort town in the winter – they were wandering around looking for things that were open,” she continued. “I hope they all come back. Berlin at 4 or 5 o’clock doesn’t have much business here usually; it’s not like I was in the city somewhere where people would come in at 4 p.m. to have tea after shopping. But there are certainly more people in town so I’m trying to stay open later and become the coolest tea room in town.”

Jason Hagy, owner of Berlin Coffee House, hopes the town finds a way to continue its momentum throughout the fall.

“(The lasting success) might depend on how often they can remind people of it,” he said. “Personally, I think they should have waited until the fall when people are starting to forget – to bring them back and remind them. I really think we should do (the celebration) again in the fall just to remind people.”

The last time the town saw this much traffic was following the filming of “Runaway Bride” more than a decade ago. Many expect a similar surge in tourism with the notable exception that this time people aren’t coming to experience a fantasy or a fiction – this time they’re coming to see what really makes the town tick.

 “We’ve always known we were the coolest small town; now the world knows,” said Terry Sexton, owner of The Treasure Chest. “Once people come to Berlin they love it and they come back. So I think this will only help more people to want to come to Berlin. I think it’s similar to what we saw with ‘Runaway Bride’ but in a whole different way – it’s not a Hollywood this time; it’s really life.”

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