The spring was a little depressing, with both Rumorz and J.C. Penney announcing they would be closing. It hits hard when two faces on Main Street, one a new upstart and the other an old standard, move on. It had me back on my heels a bit, though Berlin is accustomed to such setbacks.
Today, however, I did the downtown tour, and I got to see another half-dozen reasons why Berlin with eventually survive. Three of them will be in next week’s paper, I hope, so I won’t ruin them, but suffice it to say they are there. One is the impending opening of Tea Birds. The paper is off the windows now, and it’s clear the owners have done a ton of work to get the building up to speed. Soon that’ll be one more busy storefront on Main Street.
WREN is moving into the old Gill Building, where SaVoir Flare is now, and they are moving to the larger space next door. That’s one more window filled and one taking up more real estate.
I keep hearing about “green shoots” in reference to the economic downturn. It may even apply to Berlin. For so long this region felt left behind by the economic success of the rest of the state and the country; now it may be catching up.
There are significant challenges still, however. City councilor Mark Evans showed me a letter from a realtor who said many of the people looking to move to the region for the federal prison were looking at property in surrounding communities. But if Berlin can sprout success in this economic climate, what will it do once millions of federal payroll dollars are headed its way?
The challenge now is to address the short-term budget problems the city faces to build a foundation for long-term success. Prison employees choose Berlin if the schools and housing prices are good. One of those variables is secure — there is certainly inexpensive property in Berlin. The other, however, is in a tough spot, and the budget guidelines set by the council may hurt the city more than help it.
No one wants to lay off 10 teachers. Every councilor knows that’s 10 good citizens the city risks loosing. But more importantly, those ten teachers hurt the student/teacher ratio and reduces the city’s appeal as a place to move. The short-term gain of a $1 million in reductions may result in a long-term loss if it keeps federal employees from settling here.
Every councilor needs to weigh these factors carefully. While they disagree on one project or another, they all agree they want Berlin to succeed. They also all agree that the city’s taxes are too high. Efforts to cut taxes in the short run, however, can raise them over the long-term. In the flurry to keep people here today it is important not to alienate those who might be here tomorrow.
But city government isn’t the city. I can’t imagine the city ever failing because the strength of conviction of its residents. Berlin pride will remain, I imagine, long after these discussions have been forgotten. Main Street is resurgent regardless of city officials, not because of them. The city, in many ways, just needs to stay out of the way. It’s amazing to see these efforts, which have kept the city moving despite decades of disappointing setbacks. It is convincing evidence that the city won’t ever quit. I am happy to sit by and watch to see what it can become.