Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Casting Off the Clown Shoes

I recently commented on an article discussing the possibility that the City Council of Salem, Massachusetts may consider imposing new regulations limiting the number of psychic and witchcraft-related businesses. A commenter on Facebook pointed out in response that there was no real legislation on the table and what the article was reporting on was just talk and rumors. At the same time, though, there seems to be a growing movement in Salem pushing the idea that the town should be something more than a place where Halloween tourists go to see hucksters doing their best impressions of cartoon witches.

Tourism officials and business owners hope their unwitchly emphasis on other museums, sunset cruises, exceptional architecture and a rich maritime history will encourage visitors to spend more time and money in Salem.

"We estimate that tourists coming in for a day are spending about $90 per person and those tourists coming overnight are spending over $210 per person," said Kate Fox, head of the agency promoting tourism that also coordinated the latest rebranding. She said Salem sees an estimated million visitors a year.

"Tourism in Salem is a more than $99 million industry a year and when you look at all the businesses it affects, it's our largest industry in Salem, so it's very important, it's a huge piece of our economic development picture," Fox said. She said Salem has not set a target for greater tourism revenue.

This is not the first time Salem has tried to remake its image. In 2004, Salem businesses could not agree whether the new brand should lead with witchcraft or maritime history, and the process collapsed in the planning stages. In 1925, the Salem Evening News pushed for The Witch City to rebrand in an article that proposed promoting its flourishing tanneries (Blubber Hollow), shoe factories (City of Shoes) and textile industries (Where We Make Your Sheets).

Here's wishing them all the best in this new endeavor. Salem's architecture and historical sites are amazing and more people should see them. When I last visited, though, I made a point of checking out the occult stores and found them strictly second-rate. For all the witchcraft hype the town gets, the fact is that we have better shops here in Minneapolis even though there aren't nearly as many of them.

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