SALEM — The cost of doing business in the pandemic has hit in different ways.

Many businesses have laid off employees to survive but still face devastating losses in 2020. Some have had to switch to offering online ordering, takeout and delivery services, as they adapt to safety guidelines amid COVID-19. 

Those stories are being heard throughout the region, although things are a bit different in Salem. Here, the bustle of tourists has kept many lights on so far. But that doesn't mean businesses here haven't had to adapt, too. 

Joan Brennan, owner of Witch Tees, had to tear down a wall in her Witch City Mall location so she could add to her store's limited capacity. 

"With the pandemic, I can only have five people in my store," Brennan said. "I blew out a wall. I've always wanted to expand the store, but in the pandemic, I definitely had to do it."

Brennan said the construction doubled her Witch City Mall location's footprint from 750 to 1,500 square feet, thus doubling her capacity for people — in addition to shoppers, employees count toward COVID-19 capacity limits. Otherwise, "the limitations coming into the store would've been ridiculous. I wouldn't have made money."

"If you get a family of five or 10 coming into the store — that's one family — you have to shut the doors," Brennan said.

As executive director of Salem Main Streets, Kylie Sullivan said she has seen Salem face a different situation under COVID-19 than many neighboring communities.

"We haven't seen the closures in Salem that neighboring communities have, that even Boston has," Sullivan said. "We've actually seen openings, people open businesses or expand businesses. A lot of the closings we've seen were people who were already thinking about it."

But it isn't expected to last. Salem businesses rely heavily on sales during its tourism season to survive the droughts of winter tourism. As a result, the diminished foot traffic under COVID-19 is expected to magnify the difficulty of making it to March for many businesses, according to Sullivan.

"We haven't really seen those large-scale closures, and I'm really worried that's coming," Sullivan said. "So we're definitely looking ahead to the winter months to see what we can do."

Part of the solution, Sullivan said, rests on the shoulders of Salem residents.

"I encourage residents to start thinking now about how their shopping for the holidays might be able to happen locally this year," she said, "even more so than they usually do."

The alternative would be tough to see, according to Julie Arrison-Bishop, community engagement director at The House of the Seven Gables, which itself has lost about $1 million in revenue this year.

"We're all guilty of being the worst travelers in our backyard," Bishop said. "You always have the assumption that these places will be here forever, and you can visit them some other day."

That "other day" begins Nov. 1. But to an extent, the seeds for recovery have already been planted, according to Sullivan. 

"I feel like 'we're all in this together' is a little tired at this point, but it's so true," Sullivan said. "We really are, and I've been so impressed by how many people have gone outside their mission and scope to just do whatever they can to help make this work better."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him on Facebook at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.


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