After a beautiful warm Thanksgiving week it was rather depressing to wake up to a cold, dark, and rainy Small Business Saturday here in Salem. We were playing football in what seemed like 70-degree weather yesterday up in Maine! I’m a big advocate of shopping local and small, not just during the Holidays but all year round. I think small business owners are absolutely heroic, particularly retailers in this internet age. The day before Thanksgiving I found myself with lots of errands to do and lots of things to buy, even though I wasn’t even cooking: off I went to the tailor, the newest French bakery, the wine store, and the cheese shop, all on foot. I’m sure I could have saved myself time and money if I had just driven to Vinnin Square (where all the big stores are), but I wouldn’t have learned that the tailor’s mother-in-law grew up in the same French town as one of the purveyor of macaroons, I wouldn’t have been able to wish several friends Happy Thanksgiving, and I wouldn’t have garnered any praise for my recent letter-to-the-editor protesting Haunted Happenings’ toll on our ancient cemeteries. Today I went out in the rain just to see who was out and about: I prefer to do my own Christmas shopping just a few days before Christmas in a single day (or maybe two) with a long lunch break.
A very random sampling of Salem wares on Small Business Saturday: vintage Christmas ornaments (including those of a political nature) at Witch City Consignment; macaroons at Caramel; fish prints at Joe‘s Fresh Fish Prints at Pickering Wharf, a selection of teas at the Jolie Tea Company, the new tea shop/room across from the Hawthorne Hotel, rainy window and manly items at The Marble Faun.
There were people downtown, so hopefully all of Salem’s merchants had good day. In the 20 years that I’ve lived here, the retail scene has definitely improved (particularly retailers of food and beverages) but it still looks a bit challenging to me. There are many visual and literary reminders of the “golden days” before the construction of the Northshore Mall in nearby Peabody when Essex Street was clearly bustling year round, and neither its transformation into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s or the commencement of Haunted Happenings in the 1980s has been able to bring back that dynamic customer base. It’s a different commercial era for sure, but if we want a vibrant downtown offering more than witch kitsch it’s our obligation to get out there and consume: it’s a Salem tradition.
I just discovered several new archives of Salem photographs which really focus on business, so here’s some historical perspective and inspiration. Above: delivery carriages for Hyman B. Miller’s Bakery on May Street in 1913–these buildings would all be wiped out by the Salem Fire in the next year, but Miller rebuilt his business (Collections of the American Jewish Historical Society). Below, the original Salem Filene’s in 1856 and 1881: this is a business which grew to become one of the biggest regional American department stores in the twentieth century (AJHS Collections and Archives of the Credit Union National Association, Inc.).