By Tom Dalton
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.
As far as the psychics go, a few veteran fortunetellers seemed as concerned about the skyrocketing numbers as anyone else.
"I'm upset about who they're giving the licenses to, as well as the amount of licenses being given out," said Barbara Szafranski, the owner of Angelica of the Angels and Angel Landing, two downtown shops.
Linda Weinbaum, who works out of her home, also has concerns.
"I think there are far too many," she said. "The issue of putting a cap on licenses should be explored deeply and encompass many different avenues concerning the licensing of psychics in Salem."
Teri Kalgren, the owner of Artemisia Botanicals on Pickering Wharf, said it is "something that should be open for discussion."
Kalgren, however, added an observation: Fortunetelling is feast or famine.
"At certain times of the year, there are people climbing over each other trying to get to a reader, and yesterday I had like two customers, and one of them was looking for a reader."
2010 fortunetelling licenses
Total licenses: 70
* Stores can have up to six fortunetellers.
Source: Salem Licensing Board