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Berlin named ‘coolest’, so now what will occur?

2/27/14 | By By Phil Jacobs, Editor

BERLIN–When Mayor Gee Williams raised his glass at the Burley Oak Brewing Company during those first clock ticks after midnight into Tuesday morning, it was to toast Berlin’s becoming Budget Travel Magazine’s Coolest Small Town in America, 2014.

While it might have signaled the end of the contest, the toast was unarguably marking the beginning of opportunities ranging from heightened tourism numbers, name branding and financial outlook.

Mayor Williams and other town and Worcester County officials need to look no further Lititz, Pennsylvania, Budget and Travel’s 2013 winner. The town, located near Lancaster, took the ball and ran with it.

The results:

A 25-45 percent increase in retail sales since last February.

An increase of between 15,000 to 20,000 tourists.

Before the contest, the town sent out 5-10 information booklets a week. Now that number is 10-12 a day.

Kelly Withum, executive director of Venture Lititz, Pa., a non-profit organization that promotes the town, said that they wasted little time jumping on the momentum of their success.

“We knew we won on a Friday,” she told the Bayside Gazette. “And then on Sunday, we had a flash mob rally to celebrate. It was the coldest day of the year, but thousands of people showed up.”

Withum said that the town quickly put together a strategic planning committee whose focus was solely on how to capitalize on being the coolest. They spent money to make money, she said. The town extended its momentum with a $40,000 advertising campaign. It redesigned its website to make it more tourist friendly. And it flooded the regional media with thousands of press releases.

In May of last year, the town decided to go for a record in the Guinness Book of Records. The contest was to see if they could break the record of 1,642 people wearing sunglasses at night. On the night of the event, some 6,000 people showed up wearing sunglasses. But a huge electrical storm broke up the party, and Lititz was not able to prove they had beaten the record.

Still the attempt whether successful or not brought a great deal more media coverage.

“All of these things get picked up by the press,” said Withum. “And it continued all the way into December where we were regularly being written about.”

Its two best-known businesses, she said are the Wilbur Chocolate Company and the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Both reported an increase in sales because of the “coolest town” designation.

Withum’s advise to Berlin was two fold. The first part was to strategically plan how best to use the “coolest town” designation. The second was to be wary of out of town scammers.

“There are people who come out of the wood work and try to sell you a bill of goods,” she said. “We got a lot of that kind of stuff.”

Berlin’s first intention is to celebrate, according to Mayor Williams. He said he would be convening a committee to plan such an event, which he hopes will take place in March.

This summer, said the mayor, Berlin with the help of the Chamber of Commerce, the Berlin Merchant’s Association and the Berlin Main Street Program along with its citizens will in a series of meetings strategically plan how the town will move forward.

“Now we will be taking a longer view,” said Mayor Williams. “And I want the involvement of the citizens on where we go from here.”

 The mayor added that winning the Budget Travel contest opened a “window of opportunity” for Berlin. “We’re not going to sit and twiddle our thumbs,” he said.”

Lisa Challenger, director of Worcester County Tourism, said that Berlin’s emerging as coolest town will have “huge marketing value and exposure.”

“We tried to cover every base,” she said. “I want to give credit to Ocean City. They posted it on their Facebook page and they tweeted it.”

Her office also sponsored a “Why Berlin is cool” contest with the winner receiving a Seacrets gold card. The winner hasn’t been notified as of press time.

“We’re going to attach the coolest town to all of our advertising,” Challenger added. “We’re going to make sure we get a lot of miles out of it.”

By Tuesday, the Berlin Chamber of Commerce had placed the coolest town moniker on its Rte. 50 signage.

Williams was emotionally moved as he and many others waited out the remaining hours to make sure that the town’s lead held over Cazenovia.

When it was all over he told the tired, but happy group at the Burley Oak Brewing Company, “We are absolutely delighted to be voted the `Coolest Small Town in America,’” he said.  “Especially because this has resulted from an unbelievable outpouring of pride and friendship that was originally initiated by our citizens, but has extended well beyond the borders of our town.”

Williams then expressed gratitude to those Berlin residents who “preceded us and built the foundation for this honor that feels just right for Berlin, Md.”

He finished his toast by saying, “So I think it is only appropriate and the cool thing to do to raise a glass in celebration and gratitude to our good fortune to live, work and visit the Coolest Small Town in America. As cool as apparently many folks believe we are, remember, “In Berlin, the best is yet to come.”

The mayor did receive a congratulatory email from Cazenovia’s Mayor Kurt Wheeler, whose town finished solidly in second place.

The two mayors wagered a growler of craft beer from a brewery in each town to make the contest a little more interesting.

“On behalf of everyone here in Cazenovia, I’d like to extend our heartfelt best wishes to you and everyone in Berlin,” emailed Wheeler. “I look forward to visiting you and seeing your beautiful community first-hand in the next few months.”

Williams did respond, also by e-mail, writing, “I believe we also are both very grateful to have the honor and privilege of serving our local communities.” He also wrote, “I trust that through this friendly competition, folks throughout our nation are reminded each year that there are so many ‘cool towns’ in America that are generous, caring and in the best sense of the word properly proud of their hometowns.”

And what is the pattern from past winners?

According to Lititz’s Withum, this year’s town visitors brochure will stay say “Coolest Town in America.” It just won’t have the date.

Coolest Town Facts:

Berlin was one of 15 finalists out of almost 500 entries.

It collected 28 percent or 39,285 out of 137,819 total votes cast,

Several weeks ago it was only two points ahead of Cazenovia, N.Y.

Berlin finished with a 7-point lead.

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