Berlin’s Expectations High Following Online Contest Win; Celebration Planned For March 29

BERLIN — Now that Berlin has taken the title of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Town in America for 2014, leadership is looking forward and planning just how they are going to market the town in light of the win.

Expectations are high due to the direct success being reported by last year’s winner, Lititz, Pa. But before major marketing efforts are launched the town will take a day to just celebrate the victory and is inviting the entire area to the party on Main Street at the end of the month.

The town is looking to pull out all the stops for the official party. There will be a parade, beer garden, music, food and events for families. Already, a minimum of 600 people are expected to attend judging by a count held on Facebook, though the Town Council anticipates that crowds could be larger.

“I think that it’s going to be one of the biggest events we’ve had in this town,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall.

The parade will be led by the Stephen Decatur High School marching band and also feature Little League players. While the party will be an expensive one to throw, the town expects to recoup most of the cost through the sale of merchandise.

“We’ve estimated $11,200 for the event and related promotional items (banners, T-shirts, cups, bumper stickers),” said Laura Allen, town administrator. “We’re expecting to recover most of our costs from the T-shirt sales, which we’re estimating at $8,280. During my presentation, I mentioned this is a net of $2,290.  The council approved net expenses of $5,000.”

Following the party, which will be held on March 29 from 1-6 p.m. on Main Street, the town will begin to consider marketing strategies to promote Berlin throughout the year. There’s a lot of excitement over the potential benefits of the America’s Coolest Small Town designation with Mayor Gee Williams pointing out that previous winners have seen big gains in areas like tourism and development.

“This is only the ninth community ever chosen and each year it has grown measurably,” he said.

Residents from last year’s winner, Lititz, Pa., have been quick to congratulate Berlin on the victory and have said that the town should be prepared for good things.

“I’ve heard from various sources that Lititz had a banner year and told us to expect a really great year as well,” said Lisa Challenger, director of tourism for Worcester County.

Aaron Miller, a Lititz, Pa. native who now lives in Berlin and works as a brewer at Burley Oak, said he sees a lot of similarities between the two communities.

“Everybody knows everybody, that’s for sure. And something that’s similar between the two towns, too, is that they’re both the kind of place where people will be born there and live out their entire life there just because they’re so content to be where they are,” Miller said. “I can definitely draw a parallel there.”

Miller also noted that both towns have deep historical roots. Growing up in Lititz, Miller categorized the town as small and laidback, saying that he “never would have thought for a second that it would have been a hotspot or anywhere people would gather.” But the town is booming now, adding new businesses regularly and expanding on an already strong music culture. All of the town’s growth can’t be attributed to winning the online contest last year, but Miller believes that it helped.

“It was definitely drawing a lot more people that already live in that area just to come and shop at all of the retail shops just like there are here,” he said.

Berlin is showing a lot of the same signs that Miller noticed in years past in Lititz and he predicts that the area will likewise boom and is certainly in for a strong year. Miller’s boss and Burley Oak owner Bryan Brushmiller is also anticipating big dividends. Like Miller, he compared Berlin to Lititz but pointed out that Berlin has some additional advantages such as proximity to the beach.

“They weren’t even off of Route 50 on the way to a major destination. The fact that we’re a mile off of Route 50 and nine minutes from a major tourist destination,” he said, “I think we’ll see leaps and bounds of growth … I think that the infrastructure of Berlin, the amount of restaurants and bars, the attractions that are here, are really ready to meet the opportunities.”

The perfect way to kick off what is expected to be a strong year is with a huge party, Brushmiller added, especially since Burley will be supplying the beer.

“I think a great Burley Oak-fueled party downtown is a great start to the year of America’s Coolest Small Town,” he said.

The town is seeing some benefits from the contest, reported Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger.

“In fact there are already people coming to town because of the new designation,” she said. “People from places fairly close by like Lewes, Del., who are visiting now because of this.”