Salem mayor on tourism: Fewer crowds, won’t be ‘ghost town’

SALEM, Mass. — Fall tourism season has already begun in Salem, though October is the bigger month as the city made famous by the Salem Witch Trials nears Halloween. Due to state gathering limit restrictions, mask-wearing and social distancing, the city has canceled 11 fall events from fairs and food truck festivals to pumpkin walks and a costume parade.

“We anticipate we’ll have less crowds,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “It won’t be a ghost town.”

For weeks, the city has worked to reduce COVID-19 infections by employing an aggressive mask-wearing campaign, using “ambassadors” on streets to remind people to wear masks, or handing them out. Driscoll said some tickets have been written for large gatherings that are against state rules.

Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker praised several communities such as Salem, which had been high-risk for COVID-19 and have since lowered their rates.

All of this in advance of tourism season, a big moneymaker for Salem and surrounding communities in most years.

“We’ll be lucky if we hit 40%,” said Salem Witch Museum Executive Director Tina Jordan, of capacity limits. “We’re looking at 25%.”

Dylan Atkins and Jessica Pappalardo beat the fall tourism rush in Salem by visiting the Witch Museum Wednesday, one of three stops they’ll make on vacation from the New Paltz, N.Y.

“Personally, I prefer not to be in a large crowd,” Atkins said.

The couple will also visit Boston and the Berkshires before heading home.

“We’re definitely planning on coming back once the pandemic is over,” he said.

For Salem’s restaurants, spillover from fall events is generally a big boost, but now, with restrictions, guests are having to plan and call ahead; even that brings difficulties for some eateries.

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“Some people want to move their events outside, which we have to honor but that takes up our [outdoor] dining space,” said Daniel Gursha, executive chief at the Ledger Restaurant and Bar. “It has definitely been challenging.”

Mayor Driscoll said determining how much revenue October brings into the city is difficult but that meal and hotel taxes generate $1 million apiece. October visitors may be responsible for nearly half of the tax revenue.

She added that if visitors plan to come to Salem this year they need a plan and a mask. If they are fond of Halloween, she has another thought.

“Come next year,” said Driscoll. “This may not be the year to come.”

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