Day announces plans to retire as Berlin’s promoter
BERLIN– One of the architects of the “Cool Berlin” campaign announced his intention to retire this week.
Michael Day, Berlin’s Economic & Community Development Director, declined to give a specific date, but has begun the process of stepping away following more than a decade of public service in Salisbury, Pocomoke and Berlin.
“I’m going to retire when they let me,” Day said with a laugh. “I just wanted to give them a heads up that I’m going to be laying the plan out. I didn’t give them a definite date just yet, so I’ll still do my work with the town to make sure that all my loose ends are tied up. I’ve got several projects that I’ve started that I want to complete.”
Born in Salisbury, Day attended college in Rochester, N.Y. before returning to the Eastern Shore.
“I’ve run away from Salisbury six times but for some strange reason I’ve come back each time,” he said. “I’m here and I’m probably going to stay here; I still live in Salisbury but I’d love to move to Berlin – that’s sort of my fantasy plan.”
He ran a photo business with his late wife for 25 years before rapidly improving computer technology made the archival processes cost prohibitive. Public service – and his passion for the Main Street movement – was soon to follow.
“I started looking into another career, got involved with some museums and worked as a part-time director of a community center in Salisbury, so I got the feel for nonprofits and Main Streets,” he said.
A flip of the coin – literally – enticed him to run for Salisbury City Council.
“Mayor Tilghman got me and Jack Elliott, who has since passed away, in a room and said, ‘one of you two will run for city council,’ and we flipped a coin and I lost,” Day said. “So I spent three years on the Salisbury City Council.”
Day, who helped draft Salisbury’s Main Street program, later began working as a circuit writer in Berlin and Pocomoke just two weeks after his term in the Salisbury City Council ended.
“They were looking for someone to work in Berlin for 20 hours and Pocomoke for 20 hours, so I did that for four years back and forth between the two towns before Berlin offered me a full-time position as director of economic development,” he said. “So I took that and just kept moving forward, and it was a big help because then I could move forward on a faster pace.”
The Main Street concept –a state-sponsored program of strengthening the economic potential of traditional Main Streets and neighborhoods in order to improve the economy, appearance and image of those districts – has long been a passion for Day.
“It’s a small town concept and it works,” he said. “Unfortunately Salisbury hasn’t followed the blueprint as much as they should, and I’m perfectly upfront about that and I’m vocal about that – that they have not laid it out and followed the plan.
“Here in Berlin, we won the state award for organization in the first year we were a Main Street, and that is really, really unusual to do that,” he said. “We pretended we were a Main Street for three years before we actually applied; we had worked like a Main Street, acted like a Main Street and they allowed us to call ourselves a Main Street. When we became a Main Street we were already very tightly organized.”
Last year Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger nominated Berlin for the “American’s Coolest Small Town” contest in Budget Travel magazine. Day said the movement “started building steam” on its own.
“At the end of December when they closed the first round of voting we ended up being third,” he said. “Mark Huey, who was working for Lisa at the time as a social media coordinator, had a lot to do with that. It got us propelled into the third spot and we knew we were going to be in the top 15 when they opened voting back up in February.
“We knew we were going to be in it and we were in it to win it,” he said. “The merchants got behind it, the residents started to get behind it and the publicity that we got just from that was worth everything.”
“It was a great campaign,” said Challenger, who also worked with Day on the Tourism, Arts and Downtown Development (TADD) program.
“Working with the town and working with Michael – it’s never a competition of who gets the credit and who the leader is and who did more work,” she said. “It’s just such an easy partnership and there are no big egos in the way. We work really, really well with Berlin and with Michael Day.”
Day expects Megan Houston, Berlin’s new Main Street coordinator, to be a major player in continuing Berlin’s strong Main Street program once he departs.
“We hired Megan to do just that and she’s getting a real good grasp of it,” he said. “She’s been doing some training and she has a pretty good handle on things, so that will be a big help when I step down.”
“He will be greatly, greatly missed,” said Houston. “He’s made a huge impact on this community in everything that he’s done up to this point.”
Houston has worked with Day since December.
“I plan on continuing what he started,” she said. “I’m learning as much as I can and doing as much as I can, and while he’s still around I’m going to try and absorb as much as I can.”
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams called Day “the spark that Berlin needed” to get to the next level of economic vitality.
“If you tried to point to one individual who has made the most significant difference in helping Berlin move forward economically in the last few years, that person would clearly be Michael Day,” he said. “It was just the right combination of his life experience, his experience with government, his experience with business and his ability to explain and persuade people to work together. And he works hard at it – whether it’s a work day or a weekend it’s all the same to him.”
Bud Church, President of the Worcester County Board of County Commissioners, said Day is he “hero and he should be Berlin’s hero for all he’s done.”
“I’m happy for him and I’m sad for the town of Berlin,” Church said. “Michael Day was the right man for the right job at the right time. He had a way to get things done and he had an insight and a vision for the town. I think he accomplished 95 percent of what he wanted to do, and he’s leaving the job at the peak of his career. That’s the way everyone would like to finish up – at the top. It’s going to be very difficult to find another Michael Day.”
Day said retiring after the town’s success in the “America’s Coolest Small Town” campaign was a no-brainer.
“Already all the merchants up and down the street have said that people have told them they’ve come here specifically because we were named ‘Coolest Small Town in America,’” he said. “It’s pretty nice.
“In a way I feel like I’m going out on top,” Day said. “I’ve really been thinking about it and I thought maybe I should stay here this year, but it’s not working out for me to do that. There are things I want to get accomplished and done, and I’m going to turn 68 before long. I don’t have another job lined up or a deadline, but I know I’m not here forever and now is a good time to do it. I have a lot I want to do and I’m not going to be sitting at home with a TV clicker in my hand drinking beer all day.”
“They’ll have really big shoes to fill,” said Challenger of Day’s replacements. “He just knows how to work with people and get buy-ins from everyone. He really does have the town’s interest at heart and he brings folks together. And he’s just such a likeable guy.”