SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 12, 2012

Tracking tourism

Summer season in Salem gets a mixed review

BY TOM DALTONSTAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — SALEM — This was a bustling summer in Salem. The sun decided to shine, and the crowds decided to show up.

But how good a tourism season it was varies from business to business.

For a ghost business, it was not spellbinding.

Tim Maguire, owner of The Salem Night Tour, a ghost walk, said he averaged about 80 people a night last year, and about 60 this year.

“There’s a definite drop,” he said.

It was good, but not great for the city’s major tourist transportation company.

“I would say this was probably an average year, or maybe a bit lower,” said Dave Butler, owner of the Salem Trolley, which operates six trolleys.

This was anything but an average summer, however, for the Peabody Essex Museum.

“We had a phenomenally successful summer this year, particularly sparked by the popularity of Ansel Adams,” Jay Finney, the museum’s chief marketing officer, wrote in an email, referring to the current exhibit on the famous photographer.

The museum had its best July since it reopened in 2003 following an expansion. August saw the second-highest numbers since that milestone. The total for the two months was 48,000.

Both hotels, the Salem Waterfront Hotel and the Hawthorne Hotel, reported strong summers, as did The Salem Inn.

Many restaurants also were crowded.

Victoria Station, which looks out on the waterfront, was so busy it had hourlong waits many nights for outdoor dining tables.

“This summer was definitely much busier” than last year, said Deanna D’Antoni, the bar and entertainment manager. “I think there were more people out and about.”

If visitors were coming to dine and stay in Salem, they weren’t necessarily shopping.

“I see less yellow and red shopping bags going past my window,” said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce. “... I hear from some retailers that they’re still struggling.”

Although restaurants on Pickering Wharf may have done well, it was not necessarily the same for the shops.

“There was much less of tourism dollars than I would have expected,” said David Bowie of The Picklepot, a spice and kitchen store.

Retailers in other parts of the city tell a different story, however.

Although business was “inconsistent,” Shelley Matthews of Re-find, a women’s clothing boutique on Washington Street, said sales increased over last year.

It didn’t hurt that Re-find and Re-find Men’s were named “best new business” by the Salem Chamber.

“The weather definitely played a big part in the success of my summer,” she said. “They were out in droves.”

Some tourist businesses reported good numbers.

Maguire, who owns Remember Salem, a Harry Potter-themed store on Essex Street, said his business was up more than 100 percent.

Michael Rutstein, owner and captain of the schooner Fame, had a busy summer, as well.

“This season represented a remarkable bounce back from the last few summers,” he wrote in an email. He attributed the success to Fame’s expanding reputation; media attention from the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, where the original Fame earned its fame; and the weather.

At the Witch Museum, the city’s No. 1 attraction, crowds were down in July, but back up in August. Overall, the summer was about average — which, in its case, means business was good.

“Thank goodness for August,” said Tina Jordan, director of the Witch Museum.

The best part of the summer for many Salem businesses is that the tourism season isn’t over.

“October is coming,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office. “Everybody is holding their breath to see what happens in the next eight weeks.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.