Berlin group’s first strawberry festival helped by Murphy order

Organization brings back an old tradition in town

EMILY LIU/The Sun: The Berlin Borough Hall is bustling with people during the Downtown Berlin Revitalization Corp’s first annual Strawberry Festival. People young and old come with their families and friends to celebrate the beautiful day and reconnect with the community. Thanks to Gov. Murphy’s May 17 update, many people do not wear masks.

With spring in full swing, the Downtown Berlin Revitalization Corp. kicked off the season with its first annual strawberry festival on May 22 at Berlin Borough Hall.

Thanks to a May 17 update from Gov. Phil Murphy, the outdoor mask restriction for the event was lifted for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated. While many chose to go without masks, there was a smattering of people who kept them on.

“We kinda knew it was going to be decent, but it’s better than we hoped,” shared the Berlin group’s president, Carri Alper.

The festival turnout was reminiscent of pre-COVID times. For four hours, residents and visitors were welcome to enjoy the event and have a slice of strawberry shortcake, courtesy of ShopRite and Stella Farms. Rich LaLena and his friends, Ray Mixon, Frank Verrili, Gino Ristra, Sonny Barry and Sky’s Hot Red Trio filled the air with music from inside Berlin’s gazebo.

EMILY LIU/The Sun:Singer Ray Mixon is one of seven singers brought by Rich LaLena to provide music throughout the festival on May 22. From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the singers take turns singing classic songs from the gazebo. Their voices can be heard from the parking lot.

In the parking lot, there were food trucks and an adult only section featuring Ollie Gators, the Berlin Brewery and Woodbriar and Valenzano Family wineries.

Alper said they had planned the event since March.

“The strawberry festival used to be something that Berlin hosted, but that was about 40 or 50 years ago,” she explained. “It wasn’t hosted by us. … it wasn’t at this location, but some of the people who have lived here a long time really missed it, and we got a lot of feedback saying they wish we’d have it again.”

The revitalization group’s mission is to build interest in the downtown area to attract businesses and revitalize, and the festival succeeded in bringing together all kinds of local businesses. Scattered about were booths that included the Berlin Rotary Club and its bike raffle; Camden County College; and the Marie Fleche Library, which sold baked goods with strawberries, among other treats.

“There’s a lot of good business people that have a lot of talent and drive, so I think we’re looking forward to a really great year,” Alper predicted.

The festival gave vendors old and new a chance to introduce their business to  the community. Stella’s Farms, for instance, had a spot in front of borough hall.

“We’ve been in Berlin for 100 years,” said the farm’s co-owner, Barbara Stella, of a business that has been run by the Stella family for five generations. “With me today are generations three, four and five,” she added during the event. “We got some flowers and local honey, obviously the strawberries, and my other cousin is making doggie treats.”

Willow Moon Candles offered a wide variety of scented candles and reiki-infused gemstone candles. Its tent was run by owner April Gindville, who operates out of West Berlin and has been making candles for 14 years.

Across from Gindville was It’s Personal by Carly, a newer business founded and owned by Carly Monaghan, a crafter who makes personalized items, favors and custom gifts.

EMILY LIU/The Sun:Many local vendors attend the Berlin Strawberry Festival. Featured is Carly Monaghan and her business, It’s Personal by Carly. The Berlin resident started it only two months ago in March. She sells personalized items, customizable gifts and more.

“The nice thing about shopping local is that you get local prices and you don’t have to pay shipping and all that,” she noted.

Stella’s sentiment was echoed by others.

“ I’m just glad to see this turn out,” she said during the festival. “People want to get out and socialize. It’s a beautiful day.”

The revitalization group plans to host the strawberry event again next year and has other events in the works, including a summer beer festival.