BERLIN – A jam-packed Oktoberfest resulted in a big day of sales for Berlin’s downtown businesses.
Hordes of people descended on Berlin Saturday as the town hosted Oktoberfest, its first event since the arrival of the pandemic. Businesses, who were also participating in the town’s annual sidewalk sale, reported strong sales.
“Several people said it was bigger than Black Friday,” said Ivy Wells, the town’s director of economic and community development.
Though the town designed the event with food and drink spots spread out throughout town to encourage movement, crowding became an issue early on. As a result, police closed Main Street around noon.
“Once the crowd got too big they just had to close the road,” Wells said.
Wells said businesses did extremely well Saturday. She said Gilbert’s Provisions sold 120 bratwursts in an hour and a half and that by the end of the day Sisters Wine Bar was completely out of alcohol and all Baked Dessert Café had left was two slices of pie.
Olga Kozhevnikova of World of Toys said she thought overall attendance at this year’s event was larger than it was in 2019.
“We doubled our last year numbers,” she said. “It was such a nice weather day. People wanted to get out.”
While merchants were pleased with the event, some residents expressed concern over the cars jammed onto side streets — past the elementary school on West Street and behind the former farm supply store on Harrison Avenue — as well as the number of attendees not wearing masks.
Wells said she thought the majority of visitors were wearing masks but took them off when eating and drinking. She said that while crowding was an issue at first it was not once police closed the road.
“Once we closed the road it spread out a whole lot,” she said.
Mayor Zack Tyndall said he attended Oktoberfest early in the day and noticed the increasing crowds. He said he was pleased to hear shops were staying busy, particularly during the pandemic, but added that he’d like to have seen more people wearing face masks.
As for the call to close the street, Tyndall said that was done with input from the police and Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood.
“It was coming from all directions,” Tyndall said. “We all came to the consensus that the road needed to be closed.”
Wells said that Maryland’s State Highway Administration had given the town approval to close the road months ago. Fleetwood said that because the town hadn’t really quantified Oktoberfest as an event, the street had not been closed. He said that in hindsight the road should have been closed from the start as Oktoberfest had attracted far more people than expected. When asked whether the town was now reconsidering its plan not to close streets on Halloween, Fleetwood said the issue would be discussed with police.
Wells believes that since so many activities have been canceled during the pandemic people were eager to attend something.
“People were so looking forward to doing something outside,” she said. “People just wanted to be out and about.”
Wells pointed out that the town’s merchants would have held the sidewalk sale whether or not the town held Oktoberfest.
“What we tried to do was coordinate a scaled down event so everyone would know what everyone was doing,” she said.
She added that while referred to as an “event,” Oktoberfest had really just been a promotion because there had been no activities or live music and people had been encouraged not to stand and gather but to walk through town.
Tyndall said he and town staff would meet this week to go over Oktoberfest and discuss best practices for the town’s Nov. 27 “Ice Ice Berlin Art Sculpture Stroll.”
“It (Oktoberfest) was more heavily attended than we anticipated,” he said. “I think we need to plan for that for the ice event.”
He added that Berlin’s police officers deserved praise for their efforts in handling the unexpected influx of visitors Saturday.