5 Places That Bother Me In Downtown Salem

Here's my take on traffic, loitering, litter, Pickering Wharf and Museum Place.


Most of my time is spent in downtown Salem. Thirty years of wanderlust has dissipated and it is my pleasure to say I am content to occupy my time in this small corner of the world. 

When not spending idle time, I have been found employed by various local entities in the corporate, hospitality, municipal and fitness fields. If you see me sitting about staring at a computer screen, chances are I am working on one of my writing projects or opining for Patch.

As I walk the town and take in the sights, I see many of the same things you see. Your perspective and mine may differ on occasion. Once in a while we may see things the same way. 

Salem has changed tremendously in the last 20 years. It has changed for the better. Not everything has improved and some things have become worse. I complain about the things I don't like, as do most of you. I try, however, not to be one those miserable creatures who complain about everything.

Here today I share the five things that I find to be dragging Salem down.

1. Intersection at Washington and New Derby Streets

This is the black hole of Salem traffic. Otherwise sensible folks drive into this traffic nexus and lose all common sense. Pedestrians cross willy nilly with or without the signals. Bicyclists ignore everything and everybody. On occasion, a certain colorful character will provide entertainment with his shopping cart and rum-fueled gyrations in search of a handout.

There is no fool-proof solution, but I would like to see an increased traffic enforcement effort there as opposed to traffic direction — less waving and whistling and more citations.

2. Lafayette Park

What really needs to be said here? Most of those spoiling this park on a daily basis have no real interest in being helped. I know most of them by name.  They don't want work, and they don't want services. They want money to drink. There is no true system in place to handle these people. Arrest and release, arrest and release — same old story.

The law seems to favor keeping these lost souls on the street. At the risk of being called mean, insensitive and a few other things, I say get them in treatment or lock them up. How many times can one person get caught using a tree for a toilet before the system says "enough?"

3. Bus Stop at

This is another gathering point for those on the edges of society. Here they can mingle with those who use the bus service and also take advantage of pharmacy customers for short-term, no interest loans.

The police have recently stepped up activity in this area by arresting some aggressive panhandlers. That is exactly what is needed.

4. River Walk To Pickering Wharf

A recent sunny afternoon last week found me walking around and the River Walk. Peabody Park and the river walk were clean and populated mostly by neighborhood kids. It seems I caught it in a good day.

Pickering Wharf was another story. Empty booze bottles and other trash were lying around anywhere there wasn't a local business entrance. Nips, pints, coffee cups and cigarette butts all shared space under benches and in planters.  There are some empty storefronts and lots of crumbling brick and mortar.

Rockett Realty has owned this property for a long time. Hopefully, their recent troubles have been resolved and they are back on top of their game. There are a lot of local merchants depending on them to hold up their end of the bargain. This spot is, after all, a critical component of our downtown business community.

5. Museum Place Mall/Parking Garage

There are changes taking place within the mall. There is some prime empty space available and a where Asahi used to be. The mall building itself, and the city-owned garage need some serious attention. The entire building needs to be power-washed top to bottom. It is filthy with black dirt and a greenish buildup visible in many locations, especially at the garage entrance.

It is past time to give it a bath inside and out. Improved lighting and some cameras in the garage would also be a step in the right direction. Visible, active security personnel should be in both city-owned garages after dark every night. Marley Properties has taken some steps on their end, and the city needs to build on whatever momentum the

This is our city. It belongs to those of us who work every day to make it our home. It belongs to those who care enough to be involved. It belongs to those whose parents were born here and to those who have just arrived.

Get mad as hell, stop complaining and get involved.

Antoine M. Boisvert August 27, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I apologize for being flip, Judith. If you are making a successful go of it in there, then more power to you, and your fellow business! To this outside observer (me) it looks deader than dead in there. But I freely admit that I am probably not in there at the right times.
Becky M. August 27, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Scott's just mentioning the traffic/driving issues, which I agree with completely! I don't get the mentality of people pulling out into traffic (traffic which has the right of way) because they don't want to wait when there is an opening, and block the traffic on the main road until there is an opening the other way. Such as someone pulling out of a side street turning left onto Highland. They pull out, block the two lines going straight and wait until the on-coming traffic to have an opening to continue on. The obnoxious mindset while driving (I've noticed mostly in CT, MA and NH in that order) is rather dangerous. Otherwise we definitely love living here!
Rebecca DeVries August 27, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Great thoughts Bill! You chose the same areas I would....I moved to Salem 10 years ago and since then there has been tremendous improvements in retail and restaurants, but there was never a serious problem with vagrants and homeless as there is now. I'm surprised no one in this forum has mentioned the amount of discarded needles found in the city on a daily basis. The public drinking, sleeping, begging and trash from these people is out of control. And this is without the methadone clinic in town that has been proposed.... To Rockett Management: PLEASE clean up Pickering Wharf. This is a true asset to Salem and it is a mess now with retailers not being able to make a living down there anymore.
john August 27, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Actualy,I was downtown checking out the latest disaster.The trees in front of Coons were removed last week and replaced with brick.Today water is bubbling out of the ground from under the new brick so,now I guess we pull up the brick and fix the broken water pipe.Well done.
KlassySalem August 27, 2012 at 04:19 PM
John, I love you.
john August 27, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Thanks,that makes one.
Diane Wolf August 27, 2012 at 05:27 PM
One quick and easy fix to clean up Pickering Wharf a little bit- trash bins. There is NOT ONE SINGLE trash barrel in all of the Wharf, except the one that the nice fellas at the Hungry Whale put out during their business hours. The city puts them all around, but the Wharf St. is a private road - not the city's responsibility.
Don Nadeau August 27, 2012 at 05:56 PM
" Get mad as hell, stop complaining and get involved." Hear, hear, Bil! Now where are my appointment book and wallet? Mrs. Mayor was kind enough to meet we non-auto-wielding commuters this morning at Salem Station to collect signatures for a petition. Want to "get involved" in improving Salem? Sign the Community Preservation Act petition, and vote for it if it makes the ballot. Better yet, stand at the corner of Washington and New Derby or outside a Walgreen and collect signatures. Well?
Americus Bell August 27, 2012 at 06:08 PM
I can't pick a "worst" at that intersection! When sitting at New Derby and Washington, you're just as likely to see traffic on W St sitting there blocking you, as your light turns green. As to the left lane turn? I notice the cutting in more coming from the other direction, Norman St. Bill nailed it: less waving and whistling and more citations. I remember when the fine for not stopping for pedestrians went sky high. People caught on really quickly!
Americus Bell August 27, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Carry in, carry out, just like the national maritime site. Ahem. At least the rangers stay on top of it, and I've never seen so much trash and "empties" as I have this year. The area on the river where the boats tie up is a disaster. Huge cracked planters, trash, bums, etc. Nice! When yachts bigger than a lot of houses around here tie up. Nice first impression. Heaven forfend the Rocketts would have to address trash removal. One more notch off the bottom line. And since they're doing such a stellar job [sarcasm], what makes us think they'd stay on top of overflowing trash barrels? There have been some minor improvements down there, but the rotting buildings are pretty much the same. Could it be... the city said, clean it up, or you don't get no steenking new hotel tower? Well, maybe not. Much more needs to be done. I've also heard that the Rockett boys are not the tenants' friends. They nickel and dime them, and offer little assistance when some building casualty that should be the landlord's responsibility occurs. The tenants are very much on their own, I gather. I've never heard anyone say, boy, did the Rocketts step up! More like, look at what happened, and where are they? What would you expect from two men who are being sued by their own mother for basically embezzling from her? http://www.wickedlocal.com/marblehead/news/x1539860970/Marblehead-family-feuds-over-estate#axzz24lvj62R7
Americus Bell August 27, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I doubt Danvers had an impact. If so, other towns would be in the same boat. What makes Salem different? The shelter attracts the homeless. Now - the shelter is dry, but the services offered around here are a magnet. A shelter doesn't belong in the center of a thriving downtown. Period. Since it's not likely going anywhere - suck it up. Btw, panhandling is a First Amendment protected activity. That's not to say law enforcement couldn't make it a lot hotter, methinks, but they need the tools. Check out San Francisco's sit-lie law. It can be sidewalks, or any public property. It has some teeth in it (fines, restraint from certain areas, jail), too. Never happen? Hey, if it happened in SF, it can happen anywhere.
Justin Mattera August 27, 2012 at 06:56 PM
With all this talk about Pickering Wharf and the management and merchants, how about the fact that Wharf Street is owned by THE CITY OF SALEM up to the end of 62 On The Wharf. Now let's talk about the fact that when it rains even a little, the CITY PROPERTY floods to the point that a normal car can not cross to get the rest of the wharf. The city has NO PROBLEM sending the meter-maids to write parking violation on this part of Wharf Street, but spending money instead of collecting it seems to be an issue (for this particular situation).
john August 27, 2012 at 07:05 PM
As for the flooding,get in line and good luck.
NinaBel August 27, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Thanks for pointing out these areas, I agree with you. Another that I may add (without anyone getting offended) is Salem Willows. Granted the last time I was there was in May, but it was filthy! Strewn with broken beer bottles and trash all over the place. Very sad, because it could be a beautiful destination for the day. Look at Forest River Park, it's very well kept, clean and a pleasure to spend a relaxing afternoon at. I've been living in Salem for the past 10 years and, yes, the city has improved leaps and bounds (especially since Mayor Driscoll got elected into office- Thank you Mayor), but there are certainly areas that need improvement.
windpower August 27, 2012 at 11:53 PM
here is what they do in New York city about blocking intersections . A officer with a photo devive takes a photo it prints out a $200 fine he places it on your window and I am quite sure you won't do it again , Just think of the $$$$ Salem could make
LindyLou August 28, 2012 at 12:06 AM
I could not agree more. That boarding house is a menace and dont get me on ARGEs I live around the corner and have the customers walking down my street. We are are sympathetic to the less fortunate but some of these folks are down right scary. I have lived in Salem for 8 yrs the homeless population has dramatically increased most likely due to the economic downturn and very sad but it does impact the quality of life in Salem.
john August 28, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Regarding the traffic issue at N Derby and Wash,I don't see this a driver only problem.The traffic design does not work for so many reasons.It's amazing when the fire trucks come towards Wash and there is no place for them to go.All of that problem is a result of the pedestrian crosswalk in the square. Two lanes of traffic merging to one just before the crosswalk.Unreal.Eliminate the parking spaces on the street from the fountain to the old court house and make it two lanes,at least seasonaly. Short of constructing an elevated crosswalk over Wash what else can be done?
d August 28, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Many of the problems discussed here could be addressed by relentless enforcement of the laws against littering. The panhandlers and tree-pee offenders are often the same folks who fling empty nips. Let's make that lifestyle less comfortable. The traffic complaints are also largely issues of insufficient enforcement. I'd love to see ticketing of those who use the left-turn-only lane as a shortcut to straight ahead. Finally, the Rocketts might be more inclined to maintain their property if there was a significant downside to their current derelictions. In all 3 cases, I think it's a failure by the city administration to use the tools that they already have.
Henry Talbot August 28, 2012 at 01:15 AM
You all have no idea what you are talking about. The homeless population and transient population has been reduced in Salem. Go to Peabody Square and have a look, go to Beverly and have a look. There are a handful of homeless in Salem that refuse any type of help, they are not allowed into Lifebridge because they do not follow the rules and regulations of the facility. The police have had most that you are complaining about committed on a Section-12 due to alcohol abuse, they also take a zero tolerance approch with them. There is a breakdown in the system for status offenses or miscellaneous city ordinance violations. I would suggest to you that Salem way ahead of the surrounding communities when it comes to dealing with the homeless. Lafayette Park has also improved, there are in fact some people that frequent the park but I would suggest that they are not homeless, a park is a public place, you can not prevent folks from sitting on the benches. I remember when there were large groups sitting inside of the park drinking and creating disturbances. I never see that any more, the City and Police have done a great job.
john August 28, 2012 at 01:17 AM
One thing to consider,for whatever it's worth, is that the Police Chief and Mayor both support the shelter. Not sure how you could enforce traffic issues with such a poor design.As an example,When coming down Norman St towards Wash,when you get to the awful set of lights it goes from two lanes to three for the next 30 yards. How can everyone be in the correct lane? If you want to go straight you have to be in the right lane with all the cars that want to go right.It makes no sense.
Henry Talbot August 28, 2012 at 01:30 AM
The people everyone is complaining about are not clients of the "shelter" they are banned from the shelter, go ask them I have, they do not want help, go ask then I have. The liquor stores need to stop selling to them.
john August 28, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Well Henry,the ones that are not allowed in the shelter have not been commited and are in the police log daily.Last week I saw a guy at Lafayette park face down,passed out and pissed himself at 2pm.I don't see this in Peabody square. There is a homless guy in Salem ,with the same last name as you, who gets PC every couple of weeks. I am not connecting him to you but this guy has been around for years.A public park is not for drunks to passout at,thats against the law.
William Legault August 28, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Henry, most of the liquor stores do refuse to sell to these guys. I know this from personal past experience working in a downtown liquor store. That is not a solution as they just send in others to buy for them. This is not a liquor store issue. It is personal responsibility issue, and a societal issue. Why have we reached a point where it is acceptable for some to become professional leeches who sleep on park benches, urinate on doorways, and demand handouts from old ladies picking up prescriptions at pharmacies? Banned from the shelter? How does that make sense? Prior to the move from Crombie Street, the powers that be at the "shelter" promised to address the chronic cases that inhabited Salem at the time. Some of those chronic cases still assault our senses and lives every day today. How does banning them address the issue? Keep in mind that I sat on Mayor Usoviscz's "Taskforce on Homelessness" during that time and remember well all of the conversations.
Henry Talbot August 28, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Bill I guess we should thank the law makers then for making it unconstitutional for laws and ordinances that prohibit panhandling! I would suggest that the current Director and Staff at Lifebridge have far exceeded the former "Crombie Street" flunkies. They have attempted to get this small group of transient's the help they need, however they refuse any assistance and continue to live on the street. I am not sure how Lifebridge can be held accountable for their failure. I like you have been in Salem my entire 48 years. I remember when there were a lot more homeless wondering the streets. Mayor Usovicz's task force? The same Homeless task force that now meets quarterly to discuss complaints and concerns involving the homeless, the same task force that addresses the issues of the homeless impacting the downtown, the task force that has not received a single complaint from a downtown business in years. The same task force that use to meet monthly but due to lack of complaints meets quarterly. Is that the task force you are referring to? The meeting is run by Jane Guy in the Planning Department. I believe the minutes are recorded and available to the public. If we have it that bad in this community then take a walk through downtown Lynn, I recently did to put things into perspective, things are pretty good here in Salem!!!
William Legault August 28, 2012 at 02:25 PM
The board that I sat on was organized specifically to deal with the move of the shelter from Crombie Street to it's current location. It s now defunct. There is a Homeless Outreach Advisory Committee that has met twice this year. Most businesses would seem to be unaware of it's existence. I
Keep Salem Trashy! August 28, 2012 at 05:12 PM
I think there is a obvious downside, they are just not responsible enough to care/notice. Business are going under, there are empty store fronts, and their reputation and the obvious maintenance issues are scaring off strong new tenants. They have a gem and there are wrecking the value of their asset by being defacto slumlords and coming off like total shysters. Everything from their maintenance department, their leasing office personal, the leasing agreements (3x longer than anyone else - and shady as can be) needs to be tossed in the garbage. They need to start over with new personal and several cases of paint. The owners should shop others and see how property is supposed to be managed, marketed, and leased so they and demand more from their employees. I can attest to the fact that their horrible personal is scaring away tenants who would otherwise love to set up shop on the wharf.
Driving In Salem September 05, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Driving here is appalling and despite the fact that the city wasn't designed for the traffic, there are laws about driving that are in effect here regardless of city planning (or lack thereof). It's too bad that many drivers and the Salem Police don't seem to think those laws are good enough to follow or enforce. Not sure where either group gets off ignoring the law, but the Police are tacitly approving lawbreaking and it needs to stop.
Driving In Salem September 05, 2012 at 02:02 PM
You can't tear up and rebuild the city - entirely impractical. It IS a driver problem. Drivers need to follow the rules they learned when they got their licenses, not the rules they decided to create when being patient no longer suited them. Really, this is a simple matter of following & enforcing existing rules.
Paul Wennik September 07, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Paul Wennik---Most likely because we have now and have had for some time, a community funded settlement house /facility, in our downtown area. They do wonderful work, considering the difficult tasks and challenges they face with the folks they serve, on a daily basis.I live a block away and have had no issues, but, I understand, how this population may possibly offend or intimidate others. How does it go--"But for the grace of God, there go I---" I'm one of those that gives what I can--and am not naive about where it goes --not for me to judge.
Erin September 13, 2012 at 01:37 AM
I just returned from a visit to Salem and that intersection is most definitely not just a driver only problem. Pedestrians seldom wanted to wait for the very short walk light to come up and crossed whenever they 'thought' they had a break. From a pedestrian's viewpoint, the way the pedestrian crossing lights work doesn't work well, if you're trying to get to the diagonally opposite corner. You barely have enough time to get across one street, then you have to stand there and wait for it to cycle through all of the lights again, before you get to cross the 2nd intersection. People get impatient.


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