Concerns Lead Berlin Council To Table Sidewalk Sale Request

BERLIN – After more than 60 years, the future of the annual August sidewalk sale is uncertain following concerns voiced by some Berlin merchants.

While one faction of business owners is looking forward to taking part in the sidewalk sale that’s been held downtown for decades, another would rather see the town promote a similar event held during Berlin’s Octoberfest.

“I don’t want to put my items on sale in the prime of the season,” said Patty Falck, who runs the shop TaDa with her daughter.

Falck shared her concerns with the town council Monday as officials were set to consider the special event approval required for the August sidewalk sale, which is supposed to be Aug. 14 and 15. The request was submitted by Debbie and Steve Frene of Victorian Charm, who were not present.

Falck said Berlin was no longer the quiet town it was when the event started.

“In the 63 years the Berlin Sidewalk Sale has been in existence, the town has drastically changed,” she said. “Our events are bigger and better and the town is busy year-round. Anyone who walked up and down Main Street last July or August can tell you there were days when it seemed like you could barely fit another person in town.”

Falck said her primary concern was the fact that the August event was to be called the Berlin Sidewalk Sale even though only a handful of merchants would be taking part in it. She said the sidewalk sale planned for October had more claim to the moniker as most downtown businesses would be participants.

“We are only asking that if these few stores are the only ones participating that the sale not be labeled the annual Berlin Sidewalk Sale,” said Falck, who also read a letter from her daughter, Blair Parsons, with similar comments.

She said that of the town’s 32 stores, just two or three would be participating. According to Ivy Wells, the town’s economic development director, four merchants — Bill Outten, who operators antique stores in town, the Atlantic Hotel, Bleached Butterfly and Victorian Charm — had said they wanted to be involved in the August event.

When contacted Tuesday, Outten said he didn’t see any reason not to take part in the event, particularly since it had been held in Berlin each August year after year.

“It’s been going on for a long time,” he said. “I don’t see a problem with it. I believe anything that brings people to Berlin will help Berlin.”

He pointed out that just as with the August event, not all of the town’s shops participated in the October sidewalk sale. He said if the town had both merchants could participate in whichever one they chose or even both.

“What’s wrong with being in both?” he said, adding that he would like to see all of the town’s businesses operate in harmony. “I think Berlin should pull it together and support each other.”

Michael Day, Berlin’s former economic development director, said the sidewalk sale — started years ago by Jack Burbage at the old Style Guide on Main Street — had been dwindling in size for the past decade or so. Last year, racks were set out by just a handful of shops in the vicinity of Victorian Charm.

“When Jack Burbage started it, the town was dead,” he said. “They needed something to bring people to town.”

Day said the concerns voiced by Falck at this week’s council meeting were echoed by other merchants during his time in Berlin. He says they are worried that people will come to Berlin expecting a town-wide sidewalk sale and will be disappointed when they realize just one or two shops are participating.

“They feel duped,” he said.

The reason most shops choose not to participate, he added, was because they didn’t have particularly seasonal merchandise and didn’t want to clear out their inventory in the middle of the busy summer shopping season in Berlin.

After hearing Falck’s thoughts Monday, Mayor Gee Williams said he wanted to see some sort of compromise occur. He said that because the August event as proposed included a street closure, approval from the town would essentially make it a town-sponsored event. He questioned the idea of having streets closed for a sidewalk sale.

“I’m absolutely against closing down the street for one or two businesses,” he said. “That’s not right. I want every business here to do well.”

Dave Gaskill, the town’s attorney, said the town code didn’t allow shopkeepers to set up merchandise on the sidewalk.

Williams suggested the merchants get together and come to some sort of agreement regarding the name and layout of the August event.

“We need to be fair,” he said. “We don’t have any unimportant people, any unimportant neighborhoods or any unimportant businesses.”

The council opted to table the issue rather than vote on the special event request Monday.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.