BERLIN — The summer of 2012 may be one of the best in recent memory as economic development in Berlin continues to buck the national economy with businesses opening and expanding throughout the Town.
As the Town continues to fill empty shops and make room for existing ones to expand, the addition hope is that jobs will continue to be created. Councilman Dean Burrell took the opportunity during the meeting to ask Community and Economic Development Director Michael Day about the potential for job creation.
For his part, Day took the opportunity to give the Council a chance to meet owners of two of the businesses seeking support for their endeavors.
The first was Debra Everett, who proposes to open the Maryland Wine Bar on North Main Street in the building that formerly housed the Chamber of Commerce and the Henry Gallery.
During her appeal to the Mayor and Council for a letter of support, Everett explained that her business model would be to sell only Maryland wine including tastings by the glass, and flights of three glasses.
Since the shop is small, she said and will be mostly taken with stock, the ambience will not promote lingering so much as sampling.
Her two primary markets will be visitors who want a bottle of Maryland wine to take home as a souvenir and those interested in the burgeoning wine movement around the state. In recent years Maryland has begun to develop a formidable number of wineries, crossing the 50 mark last year and the number is expected to continue to grow.
She told Burrell that at the start she would be the sole employee but as the summer came on and business increased she may employ as many as four people.
As the market develops, the quality of the wine will continue to improve. Everett suggested that Berlin was just the right place to act as the Eastern Shore center for Maryland wine.
The other business that is expanding, or at least hoping to, is the Baked Dessert Cafe and Gallery and owners Robin Tomaselli and Shelly Eppard, the sisters behind the project also took the opportunity to talk to the Council about their intentions. Their plan is not so much to get bigger as it is to increase the shop’s scope. Inspired by Bishop’s Stock in Snow Hill, the pair sought a letter of support from the Town Council that would allow them to sell wine on their premises.
Bishop’s Stock is an art gallery that also holds wine tastings and sells wine by the bottle and glass.
The primary concept for “Baked” would be to use opportunities such as 2nd Friday to highlight the tastings but they were clear that they wouldn’t be a bar. The particular niche they expect to fill is the organic movement. They will sell organic wines and beers that are expected to be exclusive to their shop in town.
In offering to prepare the endorsement, Mayor Gee Williams cited the team who proposed making the peach dumpling the official Town Dessert not long after they opened.
“You’ve certainly been innovative over the years since you’ve gotten to Town,” he said.
The letter of support is required by the Worcester County Board of Liquor Control who has the final say on the opening of places that seek to sell beer, liquor or wine. And the Council has a few more to sign over the coming weeks.
In addition to filling vacant buildings it appears as if the renovation on North Main Street will open with all of the retail space spoken for.
One of the first businesses on board was Toy Town Antiques. The antique toy purveyor has had so much success in Berlin in finally needs to return to where it started. Toy Town began as a vendor area in Town Center II and when it outgrew that space it moved across the street to what was formerly a year-round Christmas store.
Earlier this year Town Center II elected to move around the corner to Pitts Street, leaving much of North Main Street vacant. Currently under renovation, upon completion the Toy Shop is ready to take up a significant part of the newly-vacated space it once occupied only a small part of.
Additionally, “Sisters” a general gift store, has committed to 3,700 feet of the space. Donna Compher who, along with her sister Michael Ann Phillips have conceived of a store that will bring a particular addition to the retail selection around town.
Compher said she and Phillips had a peculiar idea for a store and felt as if Berlin was the kind of town that could support it. They reached out to local Realtor Cam Bunting who helped them get a deal to occupy part of the building.
Selling everything from high-end pottery to gardening supplies, the store hopes to complete the Berlin retail experience. Since they committed to the space in December, the sisters of Sisters have worked closely with John Barrett who is developing the property, to ensure that their store will fit their needs.
Compher said she couldn’t be more excited about the way the renovations have been coming along.
“The brick looks great out front,” she said.
The brick front was funded in part by facade grants provided through the State of Maryland. Although the process can take some time and can be subject to some state restrictions, they are apparently worth it to local business. Shops all around town have used the access to facade and other small business development funding opportunities to make improvements that otherwise would not have been made.
In addition to the two Donaway Buildings — one on South Main Street and the other on Pitts Street — the North Main Street building Sisters will occupy is also being redone with in partnership with the State.
Oftentimes the deal requires an upfront investment that is reimbursed. At this week’s meeting the Town approved reimbursement for the facade work done on Burley Oak Brewery. The reimbursement often gives local business owners a cash boost that can be reinvested into their companies.
The facade and other small business programs have been a significant part in sustaining Berlin’s continued growth and stability during a time that has been difficult at best for most other small towns.
Between grants, Town reimbursements and owner-supplied funding more than $750,000 in improvements have been done to the Town. As long as the Town and the merchants continue to support improvements, the State seems willing to at least help fund them.