I try to shop local whenever possible: compared to decades past, it’s not difficult as Salem seems to have become as much of a shopping destination as a dining one. But you’ve got to pick a side: goth or gleeful? dark or bright? macabre or merry? Krampus or Santa Claus? Because of the ever-increasing exploitation of the tragedy of 1692 and its contrived connection to Halloween, “witchy” shops, an aesthetic very broadly defined in Salem, have proliferated over the past few years, reaching the level of self-sustaining demand. This article asserts that Salem has become an “alt fashion hotspot” for those seeking gothic garb, and explains the supply and the demand far better than I can! Maybe you can have it both ways—there are certainly some Salem shops that manage to merge the macabre and the merry quite creatively—but with a list consisting of babies and mostly middle-aged people, I’m squarely in the Merry Christmas camp.
So let’s take a walk down Essex Street from the Witch House to the Hawthorne Hotel and I’ll point out some of my favorite shops along the way and on the side streets. Remember my “merry” bias: this is not an all-inclusive tour! I’m so down on witch-kitschiness that I’ve sworn not to patronize businesses that even have “Witch City” in the name, but I have to make occasional exceptions. I can’t resist Witch City Consignment: there’s so much to see and buy there, though generally I end up buying more things for myself rather than friends or family. I can’t resist the Salem stuff and right now I’m into “apothecariana” or whatever you call it: I love these turn-of-century gold-lablel pharmacy bottles and they are on sale! Witch City Wicks across the way has great candles: I’ve been buying them from the pre-brick-and-mortar days. This section of Essex Street is pretty gothy with the looming Vampfangs and the new Blackcraft, a southern California company which transformed a Colonial Revival bank building into an all-black emporium with a red witch descending from the center ceiling medallion. I skipped the former and went into the latter, for a very brief spell. There’s a lot of black in the store, but very little craft: strictly made in China as far as I could tell. On to Town House Square past the Christmas Tree in Lappin Park.
Witch City Consignment wares; nice to see the cheery windows of the Gulu-Gulu Cafe after I left Blackcraft.
I craved more craft and more merry after Blackcraft, so I headed right for a trio of shops on the corner of Washington and Front Streets owned by a very creative and entrepreneurial couple: the brand new Spruce Home, Oak+Moss, and Roost & Company. Much shopping ensued: these shops have something for everyone, and their wares are unique yet usable, tactile and textural, both decorative and utilitarian. I scooped up napkin rings and onesies, managed to resist all manner of cocktail culture, but had to have my very own merry & bright banner!
Spruce Home and Oak+Moss.
There is great shopping on Front Street (particularly at J.Mode for women’s clothing) which runs paralell to Essex on either side of Derby Square, but I did so well at the Spruce/Oak/Roost triumvirate that I headed straight for Emporium 32 on Central, before getting back on Essex. Here we have the curation of yet another creative couple, who have packed their tin-ceilinged shop with more whimsical wares, including nostalgic Christmas decorations, jewelry, prints, very visual books, barware and outerware. It’s a great accessory shop, and also a wonderful place to shop for men with hats, gloves, and shaving stuff galore. Plus it’s just a merry place, which always cheers you up, no matter the season (and they always have the best windows, in every season). At this point, I have to admit that I had my husband with me and we had nearly reached his shopping capacity, so it was time to break for lunch at the tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel (and drinks, of course: I had this delicious blood orange & bourbon cocktail, below). 1925, the latest venture from the Emporium entrepreneurs, will be opening in the corner shop of the Hotel in the new year.
With sustenance, my husband declared he could do two more shops and no more, so we set off for the Peabody Essex Museum shop and Diehl–Marcus & Company, a lovely store located in a Bulfinch building almost across from Emporium 32 on Central Street. Even when I was furious with the PEM for removing the Phillips Library to Rowley (five years ago!) I still shopped in its lovely shop: its buyers have always found the best things. This particular year, the PEM shop seems to have embraced all things Salem, commissioning little wooden replicas of all of its buildings from The Cat’s Meow. I want them all and I couldn’t possibly choose, so I “settled” for some Ropes Mansion placemats, among other items. There’s no question that more damage would have been done if my husband wasn’t with me, and I will have to return to do some actual shopping for others. It does seem a bit odd to me to be featuring all these buildings that are not presently open to the public, particularly the empty Plummer Hall, long home to the Phillips Library, and its adjoining and also-dark Daland House: maybe these little houses are a sign of future openings?
All the PEM houses! The Museum even installed a ye olde Salem Christmas neighborhood in the windows of one of its empty storefronts on Essex Street.
After Diehl–Marcus, my husband dropped out and I was on my own in the shops of Church Street and at Pickering Wharf: the former is a sparkling street of signs while the latter is looking a bit shopworn, I must admit (no fault of the shopowners but rather of their landlord, of course). But I always like to buy a few things at the Marble Faun at the Wharf, a book and gift shop for anglophiles and Hawthorne-philes (more books at the PEM shop and Wicked Good Books on Essex Street), and I knew that Joe’s Fish Prints had some cute coffee cups which would work for everyone on my list except the babies.
Candles (+ great tea and soap and lots of other things) at Diehl-Marcus, fish impressions at Pickering Wharf, very pretty hand-crafted jewelry at Jenni Stuart Fine Jewelry and more apothecary bottles at Hive and Forge/Red Antler Pharmacy. This combined and eclectic shop also features a lot of taxidermy, so be forewarned if that’s not your thing, but also the crafts of 30+ makers.
I realize that my shopping guide is a bit late and long, but I’d like to mention a few online local makers and sellers as well: please add more in the comments!
Kamillascrochet for cute hats, made very speedily.
JandJGraphicsLLC for merry and bright calendars with local scenes.
EVArtandDesign for merry and bright “windows of Salem” digital illustrations.
Chloesgoodstuff for cat drawings.
WidowsWeedsAntiques for interesting ephemera.