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Berlin celebrates fifth anniversary of ‘Coolest’ honor

Berlin resident Mike Wiley, five years ago, changes a town sign on Route 50 to reflect the newly acquired “America’s Coolest Small Town” designation. Wiley had all the letters ready before the Budget Travel Magazine honor was announced, and said he quickly drove out to the site to share the news. He took an “old-fashioned selfie,” using a camera with a timer on a tripod, and the image eventually went viral, earning more than 100,000 views on social media.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Feb. 28, 2019) Five years ago, this week, former Anne Arundel County firefighter Mike Wiley went to his volunteer post at the corner of Route 50 and Main Street with a special purpose: to announce that Berlin had been named “America’s Coolest Small Town.”

Wiley, a Berlin resident, has been in charge of leaving such messages on a town sign for several years.

“I had everything ready to go and I was out there as soon as it was official,” Wiley said. “And then I did the old-fashioned selfie: I used a tripod and set the camera on a timer, and I faked that I was getting ready to put the last two letters on.”

For the town, the Budget Travel Magazine honor marked the apex of a decades-long turnaround.

It was also Wiley’s moment to go viral. Mark Huey, then working for Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger, shared his photo on social media.

“From his post alone, he was able to track that it was over 100,000 people it hit throughout the country,” Wiley said. “It was just unbelievable. I told them I wanted 10 cents per hit on Facebook!”

That summer, Wiley remembers volunteering downtown and meeting one couple who traveled all the way from California because of the buzz around Berlin.

“They read about it and came here because of it, and just thought it would be a neat trip,” Wiley said. “People are still talking about it. I don’t know if it’ll be worth as long as the ‘Runaway Bride’ thing, but it’ll bring people back in the summer I’m sure.”

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said he was at Town Hall when he first heard the news.

“At first, I think everybody was kind of surprised,” he said. “It was a pleasant surprise, but we almost couldn’t believe it when we heard that we were the first and we’d received that very special designation.”

Williams said of all the labels the town has received, “America’s Coolest” fits best, “because it’s the spirit of the community that makes everything else possible.”

“I can’t believe it’s been five years, but I’m very encouraged that so many people in the community every day of their lives keep reinforcing that recognition by the way they treat each other and by the way we reach out to our guests, and by the way we support each other in times of need. I think it’s very cool,” he said.