SALEM — The Witch's Hide, a shop on Essex Street, was open for seven years before it began offering psychic readings in June.
To launch the new service, owner Deliela Bettencourt filled out a form, went before the Licensing Board, passed a criminal background check, paid $50 and got a fortuneteller's license for her shop.
Just four years ago, that would have been difficult, because of a strict cap on the number of psychic licenses the city allowed. That all changed three years ago.
"We removed all the caps, changed the residency requirement to one year and charged a $50 fee," said John Casey, a member of the city's Licensing Board for more than 15 years.
As a result, the number of shops in Salem with a psychic license has increased sixfold since 2006 — from four to 24. Each store has the ability to employ up to five individual psychics. At last count there were about 75 psychics licensed to work in stores in Salem. There are also 17 individual psychics licensed to work as private contractors, more than twice as many as before.
"Now, walk down the street, it's like the strip in Las Vegas. Every single store has a psychic in it," says Barbara Szafranski, the owner of Angelica of the Angels and Angels Landing in Salem, a longtime license holder. "They walk around town in weird clothing because they think they have to look weird to be a psychic.
"I predicted three or four years ago when they took the cap off, this would happen. The city has become a haven for people who want to do readings, and I don't mean good readings."
Szafranski, who was an outspoken critic of lifting the cap on psychic licenses, said her business has dropped 85 percent since the new law passed in 2007 allowing virtually unlimited competition. Before the change, a typical Saturday in October would bring 60 customers; now she says she's lucky to get 10.