Berlin Embracing New Ventures

BERLIN – In a time when some businesses are hurting and seeing revenues drop, the town of Berlin is seeing new businesses open and at least one new event added to the town’s lineup of attractions.

“We’ve had a rush of new businesses in the past month,” said Michael Day, new economic development director for Berlin and longtime coordinator of the Maryland Main Street program.

Berlin has a new coffee shop, glass blower’s studio, toy store and the recently started ghost tours. According to Day, another new business will soon open in town, but he cannot reveal more information yet.

Day attributed some of the forward movement to the takeover of the Atlantic Hotel by veteran hotelier and restaurateur John Fager.

“The hotel shot great positive energy into the whole downtown,” said Day.

The first-ever Berlin Peach festival this summer debuts Aug. 9 at the Calvin B. Taylor House museum. The Peach Festival will spotlight the town’s heritage as a fruit and tree growing center, while adding another event to draw people into town.

“It’s based on our heritage as a community where peaches were once king,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

Peggy Schmidt, proprietor of Spirits of Berlin ghost tours with partner Andrea Martinshin, just opened the ghost tour operation in Berlin. Schmidt and Martinshin looked up and down the east coast for a place to expand their ghost tours, also in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and hit on Berlin.

“We looked from Snow Hill up to Ocean City, N.J. for a fourth tour and Berlin was the ideal place for it. It’s historic. It’s lovely. It’s an easy walk. It fits in with other areas where we give tours,” said Schmidt.

The new tours are doing well despite the economy, she said.

“Ghosts are very popular. It’s kind of a nice distraction,” Schmidt said. “People still are going to do things when they go away on vacation. … Maybe people can’t take that expensive trip to Orlando. They’re going to stay close to home, go to the beach.”

Business has been so good with their single Wednesday tour that Schmidt and Martinshin are thinking of adding a second tour on Thursdays.

“It has surpassed what we anticipated,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt praised the town for welcoming the tour and making it easy to start up the new venture.

Peggy Hagy and son Jason opened the Berlin Coffee House this year. The idea has been in her thoughts for some time, she said, and might have had to wait a bit longer, but this spring she found space in what used to be the Atlantic Hotel’s general store.

Hagy, who spent several years working at the Globe under its previous ownership, was urged on by a retail void left by the Globe’s transition to a full-service restaurant and bar under new owners.

“A lot of people would say to me, there’s no place to sit down and have a cup of coffee without buying a meal,” Hagy said. “I decided to take a chance on it.”

According to Hagy, that chance appears to be paying off.

“It’s doing well. It’s doing better than I thought it would. I’m really pleased,” Hagy said.

The interdependence of ventures in Berlin is a given for local business owners, an idea embraced by the new ones.

Peach Festival organizers are hoping that town shops and restaurants will get on board with the festival idea and offer peach-themed drinks or other tie-ins.

“The ghost tour also provides a source of business for the rest,” said Schmidt. “We always encourage them to come in, have dinner, shop around.”