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Town Center Antiques turns 20; celebrations coming up

(May 25, 2017) Town Center Antiques, which includes three locations in downtown Berlin, is celebrating 20 years in business.
A host of activities are planned, including a ribbon cutting ceremony with Berlin Mayor Gee Williams – and light hors d’oeuvres and spirits – on June 7, and an “Antique Road Show” at the Atlantic Hotel from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 10.
The business was started in 1997, when Jay and Alana Parker placed an ad in local papers looking for people to rent booths inside a new antique store on North Main Street. They had decided to transform their previous business, Farlow Pharmacy.
Don and Patricia Fischer, who were new to the town at the time, responded to the ad and ended up both renting a booth and managing the new store. Six months later, they took over entirely.
Town Center Antiques has expanded several times since then, starting in November 1997. When Jack Burbage, then owner of the Style Guide clothing store, decided to close the lady’s side of the shop, the Fischers knocked a hole in the wall and added more dealer booths.
Burbage closed the entire store a year later and the Fishers were able to add even more space.
Don Fischer opened a coffee shop, Epicurean Delight, in 2000 that served espresso and lattes and stayed in business for about a decade, closing just before the Berlin Coffee House opened.
In 2003, Town Center expanded again by occupying the Barrett Building on the north end of Main Street, formerly a Dollar General, as a second location.
Around that time, Patricia Fischer became active in the community, serving as president of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce twice, as well as secretary and a board member at the Berlin Historic Society and secretary and a board member of the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum.
She was also a member of the Community Development Management Association responsible for developing rack cards and the town map of downtown businesses, and she helped plan and develop events including the annual Christmas festivities, Spring Celebration and the Village Fair.
The Fischer’s son, Bill Outten, moved back to the area in 2005 and became the manager of the second location. Outten also opened an art gallery in the upstairs portion of the building, which in part led to the eventual designation of downtown Berlin as an arts and entertainment district.
He moved the gallery to the corner of Pitts and Main streets in 2007, but was forced to close the gallery in 2010 because of the recession. Around that time, the second location of Town Center Antiques was moved to 11 Pitts Street, where it remains today.
A third location, called Uptown Antiques, was opened on 13 South Main Street, formerly the Donaway Furniture building, in 2014. Outten took over ownership of all three stores last year.
He said his goals are to update the computer systems in all the stores and to make better use of social media marketing tools like Facebook and Instagram, and to increase the advertising budget on television to continue to brand Berlin as the “Antique Capital of the Eastern Shore.”
Outten is a past president of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and helped launch events including the spring and fall Berlin Cruisers. He currently serves on the chamber board of directors.
He said the businesses have changed quite a bit since opening two decades ago.
“The Atlantic Hotel was in renovations when we first opened, so we were part of that renovation that brought the thriving metropolitan [landscape] to life from 20 years ago,” he said.
Outten said he started branding Berlin as an antique capital in order to “drive the type of people that buy antiques, collectibles and gifts to our little town.”
“That way I know we’ll be in business for another 20 years,” he said. “It’s branding in a way that I knew would bring that clientele here. We get a lot of traffic from antique people going up and down the coast, so I figure why not brand Delmarva and Berlin as the center point of those antique buyers.”
Berlin, he said, is uniquely situated, drawing a high volume of tourists during the summer as well as a year-round base from Salisbury and the surrounding area.
“For antique shops of any type to be centrally located in one place, Berlin probably has the most. That gives us a draw in of itself,” he said. “And then, being on a byway of buyers that go up and down the coast lends even more to that.”
In another 20 years, Outten foresees a mass of growth in the historic district in Berlin.
“I believe there will be several shopping districts. Route 50 will probably be longer and wider,” he said. “Ocean Pines will probably have a bridge going over 50 into another giant metropolitan area going down [Route 611].
“We’re lucky in some ways because we have farms set aside and growth set aside,” Outten continued. “There are plans for Berlin and Worcester County in this area, so I think we will be situated and doing well when all the growth does come.”
Outten said a wide array of people have kept Town Center Antiques in business, and they continue to do so.
“We get everybody,” he said. “We get young people looking for old ideas – like records. One of the biggest things in the world is records lately. Who would’ve thought they would have gotten away from their computers and their MP3s and gone back to records, but it is there – record players are being bought and records are being bought.”
Nautical items, including oyster cans and old fishing rods and lures are also big sellers, Outten said.
“Anything nautical. Of course we’re in a nautical area, so that makes us unique too,” he said.