August 22, 2011
What's Been Banished and What is Sacred Space - Changing businesses in Downtown Salem
[Quick side note: Here's the new poster Rob Zombie released the other day for his upcoming movie Lords of Salem. Word is shooting has been pushed back ONCE AGAIN (from September to October this time). Personally, I think it was his plan to shoot in October all along and he has just been teasing fans. For more info check these two blog entries.]
Many people make the mistake of thinking Salem is a tourist town, but with the many faces the city wears we have infinite varieties of businesses.
One of the things I have always found fascinating is the ever-changing storefronts on Essex st, and the failure and success of local businesses. So what's new in Salem this year? What businesses have gone to the gallows? Here are a few of the ones I consider noteworthy.
Asahi is gone - The only truly authentic Japanese restaurant downtown closed suddenly and with no warning whatsoever. I went there for lunch one day and there was simply a sign on the door thanking loyal customers for years of service. I assume it was a simple lack of profit and the winter slow-season that did it. If you want soba or udon you'll have to DRIVE (or walk 30 minutes) to Okea all the way the hell in south Salem near the University. It's pretty depressing.
Spellbound still clings to life - Many people thought this staple of ghost tours was gone after the owner decided to close her museum of oddities and ghostly parlor show, but you can still find the booth selling tickets for their nightly walking tour on Essex st. Lot's of rumors about what actually went on here, but I can't verify anything. Some people were saying the owner had some health problems. I'm glad to hear she is ok.
The Lyceum goes hipster - I'm sorry, I just can't stop going on about how lame the new name for this restaurant is. This historic building located at 43 Church st was once a lyceum so when it became a restaurant, calling it "The Lyceum" seemed like a great way to pay homage to it's roots, but now that it's under new management (or someone said the owner just got someone else to revamp/run it for them or something, who cares) they decided it was time to get with the times and change the name to something more cryptic and bohemian sounding, like 43 church. How creative. Also, locals are lolling at their menu prices: $30-40 entrees and $45 steaks - yeah, good luck with that guys!
...and speaking of hipsters - Some new entrepreneurs in town somehow managed to open THREE separate shops downtown this year after only living in town for two years. They are hoping to draw more year-round local shoppers than tourists with their two gift shops Roost and The Beehive on Front st, and their bath and body shop, Scrub up on Essex. So what kinds of things do they have? Let me put it this way, my wife loves dragging me to these shops. The Beehive is a good place to buy gag gifts for your goofy uncle and Roost is where you get something a bit more classy for your mom.
Mary retires :( - If you've been to Bangkok Paradise more than a few times you were probably on a first name basis with the owner, Mary. And if you are a local musician you probably already knew it's pretty easy to convince her to let just about any musical act play there as long as you assure her there will be people buying drinks. That flexibility (and, let's be honest, highly visible location) is part of what has made this restaurant so popular and well-known. From what I understand, the business still exists and will be re-opening with little-to-no change, but will they still be a venue? I haven't been able to find that out yet.
New haunt is just like the old ones - Honestly, I don't care if 8 bucks for a five minute walk through a strobe and black lit haunted house is a total rip-off. I have always loved cheesy horrors regardless of how unscary they turn out. [Edit: CENSORED 10/16/13] Salem needs some new creative blood in haunted attraction design. Industry standard in Salem is to churn out cookie-cutter garbage, when the reality of the industry as a whole is that creativity always beats the status quo.
Life and Death passes away - Everything must die, but the only real goth shop in town was murdered in it's prime. The owner, Nichole, had a unique vision: part gift shop, part small venue, and with the most morbid nightly walking tour in town... An homage to the subculture and a favorite of any all-black-wearing tourist, while also being just barely family friendly enough to appeal to a wide demographic. What went wrong? It's not entirely clear, but I have a feeling that we can all blame raising rent from the greedy people that own the East India Mall where the shop was located. Stupid yuppies picking on the goth girl just like back in high school. As of now there is really only one place for freaks in Salem, Fool's Mansion, but it's mostly expensive clothing, not a gift shop at all - and certainly out of the average goth kid's price range. I recommend their Vlad Tepes t-shirts.
Bulk hippie feed at Salem's FIRST green grocer! - If you're like me, and think that weird crunchy granola hippie food is the best shit in the entire world then you are also going to FLIP OUT over how fantastic Milk and Honey is. Besides the fact that it's named after two animal byproducts, it's the only place in Salem with a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan groceries. Sick of paying Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) prices for happy food? Then go here! I just can't say enough about how necessary this place was. I told the owner that if she ever had financial difficulties I would work there for free and I meant it. It's a beautiful oasis of tempeh and couscous. I want to paint rainbows and dreadlock my hair just thinking about it.
Finally, weird t-shirts for tourists - If you love Salem so much that you can also make fun of it then take your sense of humor to The Back Room. Located, literally, in the back room of a women's clothing shop, this new company has the funniest Salem shirts/hoodies I have seen in a decade. Some designs include a Mickey Mouse with a skull for a head that says "Salem, Disneyland of the dead" and the Starbucks logo made into a Salem witch. This shop is somehow affiliated with the local screen printing company Gorilla, which buys designs from artists, so I have been very curious to know if all these fun new designs are the work of one awesome individual or a collection of ideas from different artists.
So what will stand the test of time? Just as the first settlers and pioneers in town faced an arduous winter, Salem is well-known for failed businesses that start of full of promise only starve to death during the winter slow-season. Destination Salem has been desperately trying to promote Salem as a place to come to all year long and not just for touristy stuff, but will it work? If we build it will they come?