The old Chinese proverb says, “success has many fathers,” which is the case when one looks at the journey of the small Eastern Shore town of Berlin and its remarkable turnaround over the last forty years.
Left to die in the wake of the Great Depression, this quiet village witnessed for decades the economic demise of their once thriving downtown in the shadow of the booming growth of Ocean City, only ten miles to the East. And like many small towns in America, an inevitable resignation had settled in that this once vibrant, architecturally charming community of 5,00o had already seen its better days.
But to the shock of more than a few naysayers, ten local families banded together at the beginning of the 1980s to revise that perception. With each household kicking in at least $100,000 each, those families bought and restored Berlin’s legacy Hotel Atlantic to its original design, allowing it to open its doors to the public in 1981.
That was the milestone, says author Cee Williams, when one can pinpoint the time and place when Berlin’s fortunes changed. The hotel not only proved to be financially successful, but it also stood as a perfect symbol of what this little place was capable of doing. And since then, Berlin has become a poster child for the small-town revitalization movement.
The author has the perfect background to offer such an opinion. A native Berliner, Gee and his wife made a fatal decision to return to their hometown after a journalism degree was earned at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 1974, Cee took a job as the local newspaper editor, where he would eventually become its publisher. That led to almost 40 years covering the town, but it also helped in his decision to run for the town council and later became Berlin’s mayor from 2008 to 2020.
Taking all of these varied experiences together, Gee has now written a book about the Berlin success story and what other towns can learn from its miraculous coverage and re-birth. Part history, part how-to guide, Williams provides countless examples of what a small town can do to get its groove back.
Gee was kind enough to drive up to the Spy studio last week to discuss his book and experience.
This video is approximately seven minutes in length. published by Secant Publishing in Salisbury, Turn Your Town Around can be purchased at local bookstores and here.