BERLIN — With a new title to boast about, the historic hamlet of Berlin is now looking to leverage the national recognition into a huge year for tourism and growth.
“I do believe it’ll make for a heck of a great year for Berlin,” said Lisa Challenger, director of Tourism for Worcester County.
It was all toasts and victory songs this week as Berlin celebrated coming in first in the hard fought contest. Already the town is working to incorporate Budget Travel’s America’s Coolest Small Town designation into official advertising, such as a new billboard along Route 50.
“It’s already today even huge from publicity. I couldn’t even begin to put a dollar amount on the publicity that we’ve already generated,” said Michael Day, director of Economic and Community Development for Berlin.
The town began as an underdog in the earliest rounds of voting but experienced a steady and seemingly unstoppable climb throughout the race. After finishing third in preliminary voting for Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Town 2014, Berlin shot to the top early in the final round of voting between the top 15 towns. Once firmly established as the town to beat, Berlin managed to maintain a significant lead throughout the final weeks of voting until the deadline of 12 a.m. Feb. 25.
“It was a lot of networking and social media, I think, that was what really pushed us over the top,” said Day.
There was an 11th hour challenge from Cazenovia, N.Y., which managed to burn Berlin’s lead to within a few points during the final two weeks of voting. But that threat only energized Berlin’s promotional campaign. However, it was never a sure thing until the final tick of the clock on Feb. 25.
“The last day made it a nail-biter a little bit but as the day went on I think people became more and more excited,” said Mayor Gee Williams. “That’s the best word I can use.”
In an interesting aside to the main contest, the close race between Berlin and Cazenovia sparked a friendly rivalry, with both towns wagering a growler of beer from their home brewery as a side bet. With Berlin cinching the victory this week, Williams will be collecting a growler from Cazenovia Mayor Kurt Wheeler when the town’s new brewery comes online. Both mayors have mentioned a plan to visit their respective towns, resulting in what could be a long-standing bond for the towns.
“It was a competition but it was the way I think competitions should be in sports and in most things,” said Williams. “It wasn’t cutthroat. The idea was to generate civic pride and civic engagement, and I think in the cases of both the top two finalists it accomplished that purpose.”
The civic pride was clearly on display in Berlin with the town taking a total of 28 percent of the vote for Coolest Small Town. There were 137,819 total votes cast between the 15 towns in the final round with Berlin receiving 39,285. Both Day and Williams noted how effective social media was in helping Berlin with multiple drives on Facebook, Twitter and other websites promoting daily votes.
“I think it shows the power of social media. Traditional media got it started and then social media got involved and then after a while it was every form of communications available in the early part of the 21st century because it just seemed to take a life of its own,” Williams said.
Challenger credited all of the honorary Berlin supporters on the Eastern Shore and across the bridge. The town was supported within the state and across the country. Berlin’s neighbors played a big part with Ocean City promoting the contest and Mayor Rick Meehan congratulating Berlin on taking the prize this week.
“Congratulations to the Town of Berlin. Berlin was named America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel Magazine today,” he said. “You had to go online to vote, it has been going on for a period of time, and everybody has been out there supporting the Town of Berlin. There was another small town in New York that was creeping up but the good news is Berlin prevailed. That is terrific and congratulations to them.”
As the only town in the state participating, Day said that local support was universal.
“We got a lot of support from across the bay as well as locally in the region,” he said. “By being the only town in Maryland, it was easy to get everybody backing the whole contest.”
Now that the race is over, the county will be awarding the prize for its own smaller contest next week. Earlier this month, Worcester challenged residents to write a Facebook post about why Berlin was the coolest town. The county will review the top five posts with the most comments and select the best to win a prize pack including a Seacrets’ gold card.
After that, both the county and the town will continue to work to promote Berlin by using its new “Coolest Town” designation as a key selling point. The expectation is for an amazing year but even after 2014 Challenger is sure that everyone involved with the contest will remember it for years to come.
“I wish it could be forever but it’s only for a year. But it is going to be forever for us,” she said.