There were many other factors that shaped the vision: the Peabody Essex Museum’s expansion; a new courthouse and waterfront development, two key goals of The Salem Partnership; financial backing from local banks and outside lenders; the larger role given the Salem Redevelopment Authority and its Design Review Board; and the increasing attention to the downtown, zoning and parking issues by city government.
The Seidman report, though, laid out details and recommended concrete steps on the retail front, several officials said.
“It really was an action plan, a blueprint for the downtown,” City Planner Lynn Duncan said.
The report helped the city and local organizations identify what worked and what didn’t, and encouraged them to actively start recruiting. Developers and businesses also recruited on their own, as when stores on Front Street, a small women’s shopping district, successfully reached out to Bead Works, which had stores in Cambridge and Boston.
“The restaurants actually draw other restaurants, and good retail attracts good retail,” Duncan said.
Although stores still struggle and fail, and some storefronts remain vacant, downtown retail now boasts a number of well-run gift and specialty shops and a surprising number of small clothing stores. There is variety — surprising variety — ranging from Harrison’s Comics on Essex Street to A Beautiful Corset in Derby Square.
“You can be surprised just going around a corner ...” Oosthoek said.
The Association of Massachusetts Retailers also pointed to the array of special events that draw crowds to the downtown, starting with the popular Salem Farmers’ Market, which averages more than 3,000 shoppers every week.
It also cited the Salem Film Festival, the Salem Jazz & Soul Festival, Salem So Sweet, Haunted Happenings and last year’s inaugural Salem Gay Pride Parade.
This year, “we had a festival every month,” Bell said.
In many ways, the downtown is still trying to find its retail identity and still struggling to draw shoppers from the malls, but local officials are pleased to have been recognized for the progress to date.
“It’s a lot of hard work by a whole lot of people, and it’s working,” Oosthoek said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.