By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Nov. 7, 2019) Steve and Debbie Frene will soon say goodbye to Victorian Charm as they prepare to sell their shop on Main Street.
“We’re one of the few remaining links to old Berlin,” Steve said.
Debbie opened Victorian Charm on 100 N. Main St. in the 1990s with the help of her mother, Carole Smith. Debbie said she was the Town of Berlin’s treasurer for 15 years before striking out on her own and becoming one of Berlin’s downtown merchants.
“We opened it, [and] just the years have flown by from there,” Debbie said.
Throughout the Frene’s tenure living and working in Berlin, Steve said that “we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in Berlin.”
Debbie said she’s always held a special place in her heart for Berlin.
“Gosh, I just love Berlin,” Debbie said. “I just love the community of Berlin and how everybody knows everybody.”
However, she affirmed that it wasn’t always the bustling small town that it is today.
“You used to have to almost beg people to come to Berlin, and I mean we did everything we could to just make people aware that Berlin was here,” Debbie said.
She said a handful of people in Berlin used to brainstorm ideas for events to bring people to town.
Debbie and Steve pinpointed a moment in Berlin’s history where everything changed: a decision to film “Runaway Bride” in 1999.
“Once the movie came, people got curious,” Debbie said. “They fell in love with Berlin, and the events helped them fall in love even more.”
Over the years, new shops, businesses and restaurants filled the storefronts in downtown Berlin.
“It’s just a lot of growth. A lot of diversity,” Steve said. “A lot of different shops, and probably I would say a ‘changing of the guard’ if you will from a younger ownership, younger managers, younger stores.”
Steve said it’s crucial that these new businesses not forget some of the values that makes Berlin the quintessential small town that it is: friendliness, trustworthiness and helpfulness.
Debbie and Steve also emphasized the importance of exemplary customer service.
“You want them to have a good experience because they’ll remember you, and they’ll come back because they can give anybody their business if they want, and we have had such loyal customers,” Debbie said.
She added that it’s important to give people a reason to return to Berlin.
“It’s just caring. Caring about people, and wanting them to have a good experience in Berlin even. You have to think like a team player,” Debbie said. “You want to enjoy Berlin, so you want them to go everywhere because they may come back for one store, they may not, but they will come back for Berlin at the end of the day.”
Debbie and Steve will soon pass the torch to Victorian Charm’s new owners Melissa Stover and Chris Yingling, of Salisbury.
“I hope I’m able to do as good of a job as Debbie’s done all these years,” Stover said.
As the Frenes prepare to close this chapter of their lives, Debbie said she’s “going to miss the people” the most.
Steve agreed and added that they’ve become the go-to people for Berlin-related inquiries.
“So when someone has a question about anything in Berlin, we get the phone call because they know we’re here,” he said.
What’s next for Debbie and Steve? They said they’re not quite sure yet, but they’d like to travel and spend some time with family.
“We’re going to enjoy the holidays, and then I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Debbie said.