Berlin Grows Public Drinking Area For Five Special Events

BERLIN — Citing years of success with only a few minor hiccups, the Berlin Mayor and Council unanimously approved suspending the town’s alcoholic beverage open container law for five upcoming events. The open container area will also be expanded to include a number of new businesses off of Main Street.

The list of events where alcohol will be allowed in certain parts of town includes the Fiddler’s Convention, October Fest, New Year’s Eve, May Day Play Day and Jazz and Blues. This is a reduction from six events last year, which Michael Day, director of Community and Economic Development, noted was the maximum the council was ever comfortable with.

“We had six last year. We’re asking for five right now with the caveat that we might come back for the sixth one later if something comes up,” he said. “But we did tell you last year that six was all we were going to ask for and this year it’s just five.”

The one event knocked from the list this year is the International Festival, which only started last year and its future is unclear.

While there were a lot of initial concerns regarding suspending the town’s open container laws during some events, the council was, by and large, comfortable with approving the five requested this year. However, Councilwoman Lisa Hall did express concerns about businesses not listening to the ban on glass bottles during the events.

“I saw glass this year and the year before there was glass everywhere … I’ve got pictures. There was glass from the stage to Wainwrights,” she said.

Hall said that the businesses who serve alcohol during these events need to realize that the council is serious about not having it served in glass bottles, which can be dropped, shattered or smashed leaving sharp debris behind.

But while there have been issues they have been largely negligible, according to Mayor Gee Williams.

“We had one last year that screwed up … I disagree that there was glass everywhere,” he told Hall. “It was one establishment and they were addressed.”

Without naming the establishment, Williams continued to assure Hall that the matter was “handled” and that the town wasn’t going to make every business in town “put their head down because one business screwed up at one event.”

Hall relented but said that she would be keeping an eye on future events to make sure the warning from the town had an impact.

“I didn’t want to make Gee upset. My only point was that we need to let these businesses know that we’re not going to accept it,” she said. “And that the next time they will be like children. They won’t get to have beer for an event.”

Though the list of events where alcohol will be allowed has been slightly shortened, more businesses will be participating with the council agreeing to expand the area where the open container law is suspended. The perimeter will now include a number of side streets and further down Main Street.

“And what it is, is to incorporate everybody that seems like they’ve been left out,” explained Day. “The three shops on Williams Street felt left out. Burley Inn Tavern will be left out if we don’t include them.”

Also newly included will be the Baked Dessert Café, The Blacksmith, the recently opened antique mall and the visitor’s center.

“I think that it’s fair we open it up to the other businesses off to the side street so it’s not all just about the businesses on Main Street,” said Hall. “We’re not just Main Street.”

Seeing no reason to fix what doesn’t seem to be broken, the council was unanimous in green lighting both the five events and the expansion of the area where alcohol is allowed. The closest anyone made to making a complaint was Councilwoman Paula Lynch, who questioned why the Jazz and Blues Fest and May Day Play Day are only one week apart in May.

That was just the way the schedule worked out, said Day, and it has actually worked well for the past few years.

“They’re two entirely different types of groups and events. This is kind of the kickoff for the event season,” he said.

The two events work well only a week apart due to the fact that they draw such different crowds, Day continued. The Jazz and Blues crowd tends to be a little older, a little more established with greater spending power. But the May Day Play Day crowd, while younger and usually with less disposable income, represents the town’s future.

“That is the crowd that we are building memories with. We want that crowd,” Day told the council.

Berlin needs to work to “cultivate” young people, Hall agreed. If May Day Play Day is generating positive memories and experiences that stay with the people who attend in their 20s and 30s, Hall was confident that they will continue to find their way back to Berlin for the rest of their lives.