There are more and more and more witch shops in Salem, or perhaps I better loosen up that description to goth shops or macabre markets? In any case, our local chronicler had to reassure his readers that there were, in fact, places downtown where socks could be purchased. But sneakers? I think not. It is concerning as many of these shops are only open “in season,” producing a deadening effect downtown in the “off-season.” [Somewhat off-topic tangent: I often think that Salem’s planners are going for a “15–minute city” but I don’t understand how that goal is compatible with Witch City—I’ll follow up in a later post] In the downtown, there is oversight for these shops’ signs and exteriors, and Salem is a constantly-evolving city, so I’m not inclined to get too perturbed about this darkening trend, unless said shops alter an historic interior radically, perhaps permanently: and that’s the case with the former Merchants National Bank, a much-heralded 1908 Little & Browne Colonial Revival structure on Essex Street now transformed into a local outlet of Blackcraft Cult, a Goth fast-fashion retailer based in California. The creative vision of this store is simple: paint it black, all black, walls and trim, ceiling and much of the floor. All is black except for a red witch descending from the center dome, replacing the gilded eagle that overlooked everything previously. Witch kitsch displaces classicism: I don’t think you can find a better visual metaphor for what’s happened to Salem over the last decade or so.
Once an Eagle……now the former Merchants National Bank building on Essex Street is home to Salem’s largest witch! In the vicinity are more seasonal shops, closed on this beautiful & sunny February afternoon.
This building was the fourth headquarters of the Merchants National Bank in Salem, founded in 1811. It received quite a bit of attention after it opened for business in 1908: in national architectural publications and local periodicals, as well as the Bank’s own centennial anniversary publication which tied its history and success to Salem’s history and success. There’s so much craftsmanship and detail and sheer abundance in Salem’s traditional architecture that we take it for granted: I wish I had spent more time in this building considering its now-darkened detail, and I wonder if Salem’s preservationist organization, Historic Salem, Inc., is considering a more agressive policy of seeking interior preservation restrictions and covenants. Perhaps it is time, before everything goes black.
Images of the Bank from 1911: in the Brickbuilder, its centennial anniversary booklet “In the Year 1811,” and an unsigned watercolor, Bull Run Auctions.