BERLIN – Mayor Zack Tyndall met with dozens of downtown merchants this week to address concerns regarding marketing in advance of the holiday season.
Merchants gathered at Sisters Wednesday to meet with Tyndall and Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood. They expressed concern regarding the lack of marketing the town would be doing in advance of Ice Ice Berlin on Nov. 27.
“These next two months are huge for my business,” said merchant Shelly Bruder. “Without the town promoting I don’t know what it’s going to look like at the end of the year.”
Shopkeepers said they’d been advised the town would not be marketing the ice event, which in years past was a holiday arts night with a tree-lighting ceremony, and that advertising banners already purchased would not be hung. They said they’d also been told there would be no carriage rides permitted in town.
Tyndall said that after Oktoberfest last month he’d been contacted by residents who felt that the town hadn’t been safe during that event because of a lack of social distancing. Fleetwood said the governor’s executive order limited gatherings to 250 people.
Merchants pointed out that the limit was for concert halls and similar venues. They said no one could stop people from visiting Berlin.
“We live in a town, not a concert hall,” Burley Oak’s Bryan Brushmiller said.
Tyndall stressed that he didn’t want an adversarial relationship between businesses and town government, especially during the current situation.
“We’re in a pandemic,” he said. “There is no playbook for it.”
While merchants expressed concern over the cancelation of town events such as the Christmas parade, Tyndall pointed out the cancelation had been done by the prior mayor but that it was the right course during a pandemic.
“When we make a decision as a town that liability becomes all of ours,” he said.
As far as marketing, Tyndall said Ivy Wells, the town’s economic and community development director, would still market and promote the fact that shops were open late on Nov. 27, she simply wouldn’t be marketing an event. The merchants stressed the need for cohesive promotional efforts and again advocated for banners, which they said only drew the attention of local people, not those outside of town.
Tyndall said he had to consider input from town departments.
“You’re the mayor,” Brushmiller said.
“It’s not a dictatorship,” Tyndall replied.
“You took out the prayer without asking anybody,” Brushmiller said, referencing Tyndall’s removal of the prayer before council meetings.
Another merchant asked how the business community could get involved when event decisions were being made.
“So it doesn’t get to this point where everybody’s uptight,” Burley Oak’s Matt Burrier said.
Tyndall said that going forward, he would invite a Berlin Chamber of Commerce representative to event planning meetings.
“I’m new to this too,” Tyndall said. “We’re learning together.”
Tyndall said he would talk to the police chief about allowing the banners. When asked about the carriage rides, Tyndall said he was willing to defer to the Worcester County Health Department. He said if the agency approved the carriage ride plan it could go forward.
On Thursday, the Berlin Chamber of Commerce released a statement, saying, “Thank you Mayor Tyndall for meeting with merchants to discuss concerns about holiday activities and their promotion and calming the fear of a Berlin branding change. We look forward to continuing the long-standing tradition of the town and merchants working together to make our town so great.”