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Salem Main Street Program

What It Is

Salem Main StreetsThe Salem Main Street Initiative is a preservation-based, volunteer driven strategy for commercial district revitalization. The Initiative is modeled on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Program. Main Streets works because it involves all interested stakeholders in the downtown and provides a comprehensive strategy of work, tailored to local needs and opportunities of the community. 

Salem Main Streets continues to fulfill its mission to help plan and direct those activities that preserve, develop and enhance the economic, social and cultural quality of downtown Salem through the involvement of all interested stakeholders. The program has been very successful in contributing to the growth in downtown Salem. In the last five years, over 75 new businesses have opened in downtown Salem, hundreds of new jobs have been created and SMS has assisted over 140 existing businesses. Numerous new festivals and events have been organized by SMS including the extremely successful Salem Farmers’ Market, which brings over 2,800 people to downtown Salem on market Thursdays, and the Salem Arts Festival, and SMS has supported the addition of several new festivals including the Salem Film Festival and Salem Literary Festival, all adding to the vitality of downtown Salem. Most recently Salem Main Streets has published a Downtown Shopping and Dining Pamphlet which features the over 100 stores and 60 places to eat in downtown Salem.


Salem Main Streets was founded in 2001 by the City of Salem and a coalition of downtown businesses and area residents spearheaded by the Salem Partnership. It was modeled after the highly successful community revitalization program developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Main Street Four-Point Approach is a comprehensive strategy that is tailored to meet local needs and opportunities. It encompasses work in four distinct areas—Design, Economic Restructuring, Promotion, and Organization—that are combined to address all of the commercial district’s needs. The role of each committee is as follows: 

  • Organization - Building collaborative partnerships between a broad range of groups, organizations and constituents who need to be involved in the downtown’s revitalization.
  • Promotion - Changing people’s attitudes toward the commercial district and marketing the district to residents, investors, visitors and others.
  • Economic Restructuring - Studying and strengthening the downtown’s economic base and working to gradually expand it by helping existing businesses become stronger.
  • Design - Improving the physical appearance of the commercial district and advocating for the improvement, historic preservation, and re-use of existing buildings as well as architecture. Design improvements include: buildings, streets, sidewalks, signs, parking, and all other aspects of the physical environment.

In 2004, the Main Streets program formed its own board and began an ambitious revitalization effort in downtown Salem. The downtown of any city reflects how the community sees itself—a critical factor in business retention and recruitment efforts. Salem's downtown provides a significant portion of the community’s tax base, and is an indispensable shopping and service center, as well as the historic core of the city. It represents a vast amount of public and private investment, City Hall, the Court Complex, heritage destinations, major tourist draws, a working waterfront and marinas, and most importantly, provides a sense of community and place.

In July 2007, with the support of the City of Salem, Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, the Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Salem Partnership, and the support of financial institutions and real estate companies/developers, Jennifer Bell was hired as director of the Salem Main Streets Initiative and the program was then housed within the Salem Chamber of Commerce. By housing the Salem Main Streets program office within the Salem Chamber of Commerce, it has provided invaluable networking opportunities and access to resources and information. It has offered great opportunities and been an extremely valuable environment for revitalizing Salem Main Streets.

In 2009, the Salem Chamber of Commerce and Salem Main Streets received great accolades from Karl Seidman for their work implementing the 2007 Salem Retail Market Study and Action Plan (by Karl F. Seidman Consulting Services). Significant progress has been made on the strategies suggested with the goal of revitalizing downtown Salem as a vibrant, year-round retail, dining and cultural destination. Deadlines set by the Implementation Timeline were achieved or exceeded on almost every item.

The model of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street Four-Point Approach, a governing Steering Committee and four committees—Design, Promotion, Organization, and Economic Restructuring—still is the core of the Main Streets Program. In addition to these committees a Farmers’ Market committee, Salem Arts Festival Committee and Holiday Planning sub-committee were formed to better meet the needs of the Salem downtown business community. 

Recently, publicity was generated for all SMS events (which included “Salem So Sweet” and Salem’s “Ice Scream Bowl”) through press releases, e-blasts, and social networking sites. Under Ms. Bell’s leadership, several public receptions were hosted by Salem Main Streets and a downtown survey of business owners and customers was conducted. Ms. Bell also gave presentations ranging from neighborhood associations to key downtown organizations to involve all interested stakeholders in Salem Main Streets.


Several new initiatives were introduced by Salem Main Streets and have continued:

  1. The Salem Arts Festival was organized in response to the Seidman Plan’s recommendation to initiate a major event in the May/June time frame. This event’s goal was to bring people into the downtown and highlight the arts in Salem. This event was attended by thousands of people and was organized with the help of the Salem Art Association. There were over 80 artists participating in the festival. Salem Main Streets received a $1,000 grant from the Salem Cultural Council in support of this event and numerous donations and sponsorships from downtown businesses and organizations.
  2. The Salem Farmer’s Market was organized by Salem Main Streets and a very motivated committee of Salem residents under the leadership of Jennifer Bell. The market expanded to add a dozen new vendors, added a winter market component in November and December and attracts approximately 2,800 people each week. The market hosts 35 vendors and offers a large variety of fresh produce, fresh baked goods, and art work. The Market also incorporates downtown restaurants that provide cooking demonstrations and local nonprofits that provide information and children’s activities. In 2010, the SFM received a $2,500 grant from the MA Department of Transitional Assistance to implement the SNAP program and accept the EBT card (formerly known as the food stamp program) at the market, making the market more accessible to a greater number of people.
  3. Social media is to promote downtown Salem. From highlighting downtown businesses and events to providing valuable business recruitment tools, the SMS website has proved to be very useful and receives steady traffic. In the first full year in 2009, the website received over 884,000 hits with approximately 2,000 unique visitors a month. Salem Main Streets also uses social networking sites to attract publicity to events and currently has a growing number of SMS Facebook friends and 2,000 Salem Farmer’s Market Facebook friends. SMS also uses Twitter as a promotional vehicle.
  4. Holding window display contests encourages downtown businesses to improve their attractiveness to customers. This program led to increased traffic and publicity for participating downtown businesses. It also led to more attractive window displays and business owners taking a new pride in their windows.
  5. A visitor information/ambassador program for the month of October serves over 20,000 people during weekends. SMS recruits and trains 60 volunteers who serve over 300 hours to provide information. For this program, SMS partners with the National Park Service, Salem Chamber of Commerce, Destination Salem and the City of Salem.


Salem Main Streets continues to implement and improve the following programs:

  1. Salem Main Streets aids existing businesses with workshops and initiatives to drive business into stores.
  2. In conjunction with the Salem Chamber of Commerce, Salem Main Streets produced an updated business recruitment guide “Salem, Check it Out!” which became a helpful tool for prospective business owners and is in the process of being updated.
  3. Salem Main Streets supports several new events including the Living Green Renewable Energy Fair, the Salem Film Fest, and the Salem Literary Festival.
  4. Downtown Salem added new businesses as well as new jobs, and the number of vacant properties decreased significantly.

There is a great enthusiasm and positive energy around the city about the future of Salem. Downtown Salem continues to receive recognition for growth and increased development. Salem Main Streets is working to continue the positive growth in downtown Salem and to bring people together to promote downtown. While business owners are concerned about the downturn in the economy, overall there has been positive growth. Business retention and business recruitment were a top priority for Salem Main Streets in FY11 and continues to be a top priority.