SALEM — You've got to hand it to those Salem Community Arts Center folks. If nothing else, they're persistent.
Although some see the $575,000 price tag on St. Mary's Italian Church as — to quote the Andy Williams song — an unreachable star, they continue to work hard toward their goal of buying the former church and turning it into an arts center.
At a meeting last week attended by about 70 people, the group announced it has raised $62,000 and plans to launch a big fundraising campaign in August.
What's interesting about this effort, whatever the result, is that the arts center base has broadened. There are now about 25 people on the steering committee, and many of these new members reportedly kicked in about $40,000. They made the donations, one member said, knowing they are about to ask the community to do the same.
"We had to put our money where our mouths are," said Chris Gilbert, a documentary filmmaker from Beverly who got involved with the local arts community through the Salem Film Fest.
Gilbert, a native of Australia, represents another interesting piece of this whole story.
In addition to being an artist and committee member, he is on the leadership team of the North Point Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which formed about a year ago and holds services in West Peabody. The church's pastor, David Cook, is also on the arts center steering committee.
Although the small church is looking for a home, it is not officially part of the effort to buy St. Mary's, Gilbert said. Right now, he said, it's just that a few church members are backing the effort to save the church, with its artwork and stained-glass windows and artwork, and establish an arts center there.
In another development, Paul Van Ness, the co-owner of CinemaSalem and another steering committee member, started showing a promotional video about the St. Mary's project last night at the movie theater.
Heard over the police scanner: Monday, 10 a.m. Report of a woman being assaulted in the produce department of the Stop & Shop.
No word on the weapon.
For those of you — and you know who you are — who can't go more than a few hours without a drink, the Salem Licensing Board, just like a loyal Saint Bernard with a brandy barrel around its neck, has come to the rescue.
Starting Sunday, all licensed establishments, which includes restaurants, hotels and bars, can start serving alcohol at 10 a.m., which is two hours earlier than the traditional noon kickoff in Salem. The state Legislature recently passed a measure giving local licensing boards the authority to allow mimosas and Bloody Marys to start flowing at 10 a.m., and your board bellied up to the bar.
The Beacon Hill cheer
State Rep. John Keenan got hugs and congratulatory handshakes when a bill making Salem State a university passed the state House of Representatives last week.
But not from everyone.
Keenan was on the floor of the House rattling off the names of Salem State grads who went on to leadership roles in the city, including Congressman John Tierney and Mayor Kim Driscoll.
"I'm the black sheep of the delegation," Keenan explained, "having gone to Harvard."
House members began booing.
It's a perfect reminder of the first rule of public speaking — always know your audience.
Attorney George Atkins has had the difficult job of representing rooming house owner Steve Morris at Licensing Board meetings. Morris has been a frequent target of neighbors and board members over the number of police incidents at his establishments.
Atkins told the board that Morris is selling his buildings on Essex Street and Boston Street and getting out of the business.
During a brief meeting with the Licensing Board on Monday night, Atkins was in no mood to hear more scoldings or admonitions from Licensing Board member John Casey. In fact, at one point, Atkins cut off Casey with the sharp rebuke: "I don't need to be lectured."
Welcome to Bob Callahan.
The retired police captain and former Halloween czar has just been named to the Park and Recreation Commission.
Black cats? No, squirrels?
A reader said he got the surprise of his life driving through Salem last week.
A black squirrel crossed Summer Street right in front of him and scampered toward The Salem Inn.
"I have never seen a black squirrel in New England before, have you?" asked Craig McDonald, who even sent us a photo of the little guy.
Actually, yes, we have. But not that many.
New barber in town
Gentlemen's Choice barbershop, which closed recently after nearly 40 years, wasn't empty for long.
Sal Castiello, a Salem resident, has opened Big Sal's Superior Barbershop and Shave Lounge at the same location at 198 Loring Ave.
"This is my first barbershop," said Castiello, who has two other barbers working with him.
Friend to felines
Don't say The Salem News doesn't have a heart.
One of our photography interns, Cole Margen, was snapping a photo along the North River canal this week when he heard meowing in the distance. When he investigated, he found five little kittens in a pile of dirt or rubble.
He wrapped them in a towel and drove them over to the Northeast Animal Shelter, which has promised to find them good homes.
Same time this year
If you see a lot of traffic headed to the Willows tomorrow and wonder what it is, we have the answer.
It's the annual Black Picnic, which has been held in the Willows for the past century on the third Saturday in July. What a nice tradition.