SALEM — In 2007, the city held a public meeting on what sounded like a boring, academic subject: “Downtown Salem Retail Market Study: Strategy and Action Plan.”
Consultant Karl Seidman laid out the findings of his report, one of the first detailed looks at downtown Salem. He also recommended steps the city could take to revitalize an area that was experiencing an explosion of new restaurants but still struggling to gain a retail identity.
Five years later, thanks to Seidman and many others, the city is being recognized for its efforts. This month, Mayor Kim Driscoll accepted an award from the Retailers Association of Massachusetts for “Best Shopping District” in the state.
The award acknowledged the “hip, new magic of Salem: its eclectic eateries and charming boutiques, and the fact that over 60 new downtown businesses have opened in the last three years alone.”
“We are very excited, and a lot of restaurateurs and retailers are, too, because it reflects on everybody,” said Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek.
“It’s a fantastic recognition of all the work that has been done in Salem and the fantastic mix of restaurants and mixed-use developers we have,” said Jennifer Bell, manager of Salem Main Streets, which promotes and supports downtown retail.
“It really does start with a vision,” Bell said. “If you don’t have that vision of where you want your downtown to be, you’re certainly not going to get there by accident.”
The vision probably started long before the Seidman report. In addition to the many restaurants that opened here, there were developers who took a risk, like Dick and Diane Pabich; RCG of Somerville; Goldberg Properties of Beverly; and the Rocketts, owners of Pickering Wharf. They started building condominiums, a hotel and apartments that put more residents into the downtown, while attracting higher-end stores on the ground floors of their buildings.