One day back when Francis X. Collins still ruled the city, my mother rounded me up with my little sister and baby brother for a trip downtown.
We were all too young to be left to our own devices, so off we went on a walk to Essex Street.
Essex Street was not the shopping mecca it once had been — the North Shore Shopping Center in Peabody had taken care of that. It was still a destination for Salem folks. If you needed something, that was where it could be found. Almy's, Kennedy's Butter and Egg, Cherry Webb & Touraine, Colonial Men's Shop, Gerber's Restaurant, Kay's Jeweler's, and Jerry's Army & Navy are just a few from the roll call of yore.
It was also a time of smaller, local banks. Heritage Bank, Salem Savings Bank, and Merchants Warren Bank, where my Uncle Ralph Hussey worked, were still around. Ralph, for those interested, is still alive and well in St. Petersburg, Florida.
After my mother gathered us up, the journey began. We started on Ward Street and walked up to Lafayette Street where we turned right at the Fry Kettle (now the disaster that was the Casablanca). Passing Lena's Sub Shop and Priscilla's Donuts we would cross Peabody Street and head down to Derby Street and the Salem Laundry. I would always notice the smell of motor oil and gasoline as we walked past the Laundry. Their fleet of delivery trucks had their own repair and refuel point right there in the building.
Two things were inevitable on this trip. My mother would see someone she knew, and she would then decide my dirty face needed a little cleaning before we actually met her friend. I never enjoyed the handkerchief and spittle face wash.
Those days are over in Salem. If you want to shop in town, despite the many places like RoOst, Re-Find, and J. Mode, most folks seem to find Highland Avenue as their only local option. I'm sorry to see that because they all have much to offer. Wal-Mart and Target are fine for some, but my preference is to support local merchants whose names and faces are familiar.
In my opinion, humble or not, those that choose to open businesses in downtown Salem are handicapped by the big white elephant known as the Museum Place Mall. It is owned and operated by Marley Properties in Waltham. It would seem that they really don't care about the joint. It's dirty, not maintained very well, and the mix of stores indicates either incompetence or mismanagement. Rumors of a misunderstanding between the city and Marley Properties concerning the future of the facility abound, but no one is talking.
Some say serious retail in Salem is a thing of the past. That may be true. I say the final chapter has yet to be written.
Downtown Salem, the Museum Place in particular, is crying out for an anchor business. It is not as isolated as some seem to think. Sears, or Macy's is not the answer. What we need in the mall is a real food market. Someplace with fresh meats cut to order and locally grown vegetables. It has the space. No other location in Salem has more parking available. It just doesn't utilize what is there. I truly believe that if you build it, they will come.
What is needed is creative thinking and proper marketing. An ownership that cares enough to clean the place up and attract the right businesses would help tremendously. We will never be the retail hub of the North Shore again, but that doesn't mean we can't improve on what we have. There are enough residents downtown now to support a Henry's Market type establishment without hurting Steve's or Crosby's Markets. Museum Place Mall is surrounded by consumers. It is time to give them something to consume.
Marley Properties didn't care enough to return my calls. Maybe it's time for them to move on and give someone else an opportunity to succeed.