Museum Place Mall — Not A Lost Cause

Better management and marketing would help to revive Salem retail.


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 , , and , 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. and 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 . 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 or Markets. 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.

zachary antczak February 27, 2012 at 11:39 AM
I've said it for years, but take a page out of The Porter Square Mall in Cambridge. Chock full of Asian restaurants (Pho, Sushi, Ramen). Put in a gym as well as a Henry's type market. That combined w/ Cinema Salem and Polonus...i'd be there weekly. Run free shuttle to/from Salem State.
SalemEats February 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Could not agree more. Milk & Honey is a fantastic addition to downtown with organic and locally sourced food options. I encourage anyone who hasn't been to give it a try. And while you're it, step into Salem Wine Imports next door. Steve's and Crosby's are fine for staples but surely do not inspire one to eat healthy or creatively. It's time for a real market.
ADOgno February 27, 2012 at 01:38 PM
How about running the Winter Farmer's Market there?
Don Nadeau February 27, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Thank you William for the historical perspective and the insights. Look at the photo. What a drab dingy depressing dull dark gray monolith. So uninviting. I hope this is what the artist will be sprucing up with a mural.
KlassySalem February 27, 2012 at 02:08 PM
That's a pretty awesome idea.
Bill February 27, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Bill - i worked in the Planning Dept 15 years ago. We tried to lure bread n' circus to the east india mall, but the demographocs werent right. Times have changed, more people downtown, museum investment, more monied tourists. Maybe....
KlassySalem February 27, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I'd love to see a Shubie's style place in the mall. Church St, with Milk&Honey, Salem Wine Imports, and another upscale market could become culinary central in Salem. I think that a tiny little mall like this one will always have problems. Filling it with tourist season kitsch makes those problems even tougher.
Cheryl Michaels February 27, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I completely agree with this article. The mall is definitely the "white elephant" in the room. It screams poor management with NO imagination. The simple addition of something like awnings over the store windows, but inside the mall, could make a huge difference. Imagine awnings in a combination of colorful, fun printed fabrics!
Erin Cyr February 27, 2012 at 02:30 PM
A grocery store is a great idea, but who wants to pay to park to go grocery shopping? If you set up for a foot traffic only grocery store then it won't last. A grocery store where you could do a week's worth of shopping is just what we need, but I don't think that the mall is an appropriate place for it. The mall needs help. When I have visitors come in October they always ask me what the mall is the rest of the year. It's a little embarrassing to say it's almost exactly the same minus a few skeletons and pumpkins. To the businesses that have survived there for years, congratulations! I don't know how they do it. Maybe the rent is really cheap?
SalemEats February 27, 2012 at 02:37 PM
And maybe the summer market on to Essex Street in front of the mall – if the fountain area was actually a useable space.
Melissa Mastrianni February 27, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Arcade. It would be great with the movie theatre right there.
Bill February 27, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Tear it down and start over - it is a relic from the past. The area could be redeveloped into an open air shopping venue with a wide variety of shops and services in an inviting environment. The current venue is depressing and reminds me of a prison or some other government building.
Maggi Smith-Dalton February 27, 2012 at 07:31 PM
We've been pleading and pleading for a market like Trader Joe's or ok, like Henry's would be fine too-- for years. We talked to everyone who is supposed to listen to such ideas, to no avail. We do love those like Milk and Honey who have come into town, but most of us can't afford to shop there for "everyday" groceries. Not their fault, just the way it is. A real grocery store really is a no brainer, but I guess there are no brains behind that idea. Geesh. No wonder tourists think there are no residents here, just props in a Disneylandish WitchWorld,
Bryan Karsis February 27, 2012 at 08:17 PM
A grocery/butcher/fish market would be an excellent idea, especially if they validated garage parking.
Jared Robinson February 27, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Arcades aren't really a thing that brings in 'desirable business' Plus, we have the Willows already.
Jared Robinson February 27, 2012 at 10:20 PM
It's like the "Dirt mall" from Mallrats...
Jared Robinson February 27, 2012 at 10:22 PM
As much as I would love a Trader Joe;s there, it needs it's own 'adjacent parking lot'. There's no way to get a shopping cart from that area into the garage safely... plus, imagine the carts getting away from people on a sloped area? too much liability.
Jared Robinson February 27, 2012 at 10:23 PM
A small market (something you're grabbing a single bagful) would work... a butcher/fish market would make the most sense... but again, the problem is "who wants to lug their groceries into the mall, get on the elevator and get to your car... those elevators are homeless toilets.
Jared Robinson February 27, 2012 at 10:25 PM
We were just discussing this at the ward 2 facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/salemward2 The biggest issue is, of course, parking. The Mall almost needs an anchor store that revolves around shopping for small items or 'going out' (like a restaurant or a nightclub) Does anyone have a list of the current tenants of the mall?
Josh Turiel February 27, 2012 at 10:49 PM
That is a terrific idea! The market could go a lot farther into the winter that way.
zachary antczak February 28, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Trader Joes would be a disaster. Trust me...the one in Portland is a total mess when it comes to parking. I wouldn't tear it down....we have plenty of outdoor space in Salem that is underutilized and painstakingly difficult to throw events at. I say keep the mall, but have specialty shops run by individuals ala butcher, fishmonger, formaggerie, as well as food stands like Pho, etc. Similar to indoor markets you see in other great cities.
Judith Lazdowski February 28, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Jared - Contact me. I can give you a list. Judy Lazdowski, Glass and Etc., 978 745-1900
KlassySalem February 28, 2012 at 09:16 PM
What kind of mall doesn't have a web site? Answer, as far as I can tell, this one.
SalemEats February 29, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Zach, you're right on.
Shava Nerad March 01, 2012 at 04:58 PM
For comparison, think of the Shaw's near MIT in Cambridge - they have no street parking, and you get 2h parking free validation with I think $20 or $25 purchase in groceries. They use mostly the compact shopping carts - the ones with short noses, with up and down baskets. It works quite well there, and is a pretty common solution for centrally located markets, admittedly mostly in cities twice our size... But it could be better than what's there! Problem is, it's a free country. ;) We really don't get to tell mall management what to do, although there are ways to put pressure behind suggestions.
Edward August 05, 2012 at 10:00 PM
If there is enough available square feet, what just might work there, is Trader Joe's. They did a great business when they were in Swampscott, but when their Saugus store opened, they closed the Swampscott location.
Maggi Smith-Dalton August 06, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Advocated a Trader Joe's for that space with Rinus at the Chamber of Commerce (along with other ideas which have since proven to be good suggestions)...consistently waved off as if I was talking about nonsense. I have long since given up making any suggestions for projects we can start to serve the residents of Salem well. It's nice Bill that you say these things but I can't help but just shrug...the indifference to suggestions like attracting a Trader Joe's type of food store to the city was too aggravating in the long run. Eventually, you just quietly support the local merchants you like or who seem decent to you, and leave the city to do the everyday things.
William Legault August 06, 2012 at 03:21 PM
I have been told by those who claim to know that the downtown demographics do not support a place like Joe's or a Henry's Market.
Fred Mattei February 14, 2014 at 10:35 PM
Performing arts center/concert venue. May be a good fit


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