, Salem, MA

Local News

January 29, 2011

Witch City or Psychic City?

Councilor: 'I don't think we want a fortuneteller on every corner'

There was a time, not so long ago, when there was a limit on the number of fortunetellers in Witch City.

A city ordinance in effect for many years read: "The City Council shall not issue more than five licenses for every 50,000 inhabitants." Of course, it was seldom enforced, and, over the years, the numbers grew.

Even when the City Council rewrote the fortunetelling ordinance two years ago, it declined to set limits, other than a maximum of six psychics per store.

Today, as psychic stores and fairs bubble up in the commercial cauldron, Salem is getting a lesson in numerology that few could foresee in the tea leaves.

Although an exact number is hard to pin down, at least 70 individuals had fortunetelling licenses last year, according to Licensing Board records.

Granted, most of the psychics are open for business only for a few weeks in October, but the numbers are still daunting, officials said.

Monday night, City Councilor Joan Lovely came before the Licensing Board to discuss the proliferation of licenses. While she didn't propose a cap or limit, the issue came up.

"I don't think we want a fortuneteller on every corner," Lovely said at one point.

Members of the Licensing Board, a part-time entity that oversees restaurants, bars, used-car dealers and rooming houses, explained that taking on the licensing of fortunetellers has proven difficult to monitor.

"At this point, it's not far from being out of control," member John Casey said after the meeting.

Lovely, a lawyer, said she planned to discuss the "constitutional issues" of a cap with City Solicitor Beth Rennard.

Rennard, contacted after the meeting, said she had not been asked about the issue yet.

"I think it's something we've had in place before, and it's something we can look at again," she said.

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