I toured Salem to see if it lives up to its reputation as a spooky Halloween town. It’s a gimmicky but unbeatable experience filled with practicing witches, haunted buildings, and ‘Hocus Pocus’ nostalgia.

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The writer in front of the Witch City Mall.
Ann Matica in front of the Witch City Mall in Salem, Massachusetts.

  • An estimated 100,000 tourists come through Salem, Massachusetts, each day in October.
  • Ann Matica visited local shops in Salem to see how the tourism industry impacts business.
  • While some businesses seem gimmicky, Matica said it’s what helps keep the tourism industry alive. 
The small historic city of Salem, Massachusetts, becomes a popular hub for Halloween enthusiasts every year.

The courtyard in front of the witch city mall.
It draws an estimated 100,000 tourists per day in October to take part in the festivities and enjoy the local businesses in the area.

Crowds in Salem.

Source: Boston.com

Tourism is one of Salem’s largest markets and helps bring in around $100 million every year to businesses in the city.

An antique and costume store.

Source: The Salem News

I decided to spend a day shopping in Salem to see how the Halloween tourism industry impacts the local economy — for better or worse.

Restaurant window art.
The first stop on my journey was at the Witch City Mall, located smack in the middle of the bustling downtown.

The witch city mall building.
Inside the mall are a myriad of local shops and restaurants, including a witch and fairy emporium and the Salem Cinema.

Witch city mall entrance.
The Salem Psychic Fair was taking place inside the mall while I was visiting. For a starting price of $50, passersby could pay to get their tarot cards read by psychic professionals.

The psychic fair.
There were also plenty of shops selling T-shirts with Halloween-related graphics on them, like this “Got Magic?” one …

Got magic t-shirt.
… and these slasher shirts.

Halloween t-shirts.
After window shopping, I made my way to the Salem Commons, where many vendors set up shop on a weekly basis.

Salem witch museum.
I weaved my way through dozens of tents with banners embossed with the businesses’ names.

Craft tent.
I noticed quite a few tents selling witch hats.

Witch hate stall.
All in varying sizes, designs, and price points.

Witch hat seller tent.
While browsing the tents, I met twin brothers Ryan and Matthew Murray, who are the co-owners of the Salem-based tattoo parlor Black Veil Studio.

Identical twins Matt and Ryan Murray standing in their tent.
Ryan said he and his brother planned to set up their tent every weekend in October to sell their artwork and talk with potential clients.

Art from Matt and Ryan Murray.
Ryan said tourism in the city has expanded since he was a kid growing up in Salem. Now, he said, the tourism season can stretch past the month of October all the way to the end of November.

Identical twins Matt and Ryan Murray.
Like many tourist towns, Salem is big on offering guided tours. The list of options includes historic tours about the witch trials and ghost tours that show guests haunted places around the city.

Ghost tour tent.
Fans of the Hocus Pocus movies can partake in a tour that brings visitors to all the original filming locations from the movie.

Hocus Pocus tours store front.
While wandering the streets of Salem, I couldn’t help but notice unique shops in the area, such as an apothecary.

Artemisia Botanicals storefront.
Artemisia Botanicals is known to be one of the few witches’ apothecaries in Salem. It was opened in 1997 by owner Teri Kalgren.

Artemisia Botanicals store entrance.
Kalgren said her clientele is a mix of locals and tourists. During the busier months, Kalgren said her regulars will stop by the shop in the morning in order to avoid the crowds of tourists.

Artemisia Botanicals owner Teri Kalgren.
The apothecary is a one-stop-shop for customers’ witchcraft needs. When I walked in, I was greeted by a line of hanging broom sticks.

Brooms hanging inside Artemisia Botanicals.
I also came across a cabinet filled with wands, goblets, and spellbooks.

A wooden and glass cabinet.
Nearby was a rack of witch robes and a dressing room for customers.

Witch cloaks.
By the register was a case of crystal balls.

Crystal balls.
There are also more than 400 different kinds of herbs on display inside the shop, according to Kalgren.

A wall of herbs.
Some of the most popular herbs among customers at the moment are Mullein flowers, which have anti-inflammatory properties, Kalgren said.

Mugwort and mullein flowers in glass jars.
The shop also had spell candles for different purposes, like conjuring wealth or love.

Spell candles on a green shelf.
Visiting Artemisia Botanicals made me realize that not everything about Salem is just for tourists to enjoy.

Glass decorations hanging from the ceiling.
However, as soon as I stepped back out into the crowd, I was greeted by Halloween-themed attractions yet again.

Haunted marketplace alley.
I found the tent selling Dracula fangs particularly amusing.

Dracula fangs seller tent.
Even the local pet store was outfitted with festive Halloween decorations.

A pet store shop window.
The interior of the store had gravestones, cobwebs, and skeleton pets scattered around.

Fake cobwebs hanging in the pet shop window.
A collection of Halloween dog toys were hanging on the wall.

Pet toys hanging on the wall.
I was tempted to purchase one of the pet Halloween costumes for my cat.

Halloween pet clothing.
After stepping back onto the main street, I noticed that many of the stores in downtown Salem have names related to magic and witchcraft, like this sign that said World of Wizardry …

World of Wizards sign.
… or this one called Hex …

Hex storefront sign.
… or Omen …

Omen store front.
I was intrigued by the banner outside of the Omen storefront and decided to go in.

Psychic fair sign.
The interior was full of people browsing and buying witchcraft-related objects.

Inside the crowded Omen store.
Once I’d squeezed past a few customers, I saw a table with a crystal ball and witches charms.

A crystal ball.
I also came across a small cabinet full of potions.

Potion bottle cabinet.
On a back wall, there were shelves full of educational books about magic.

Witchcraft books on a bookshelf.
Another bookcase was filled with brightly colored journals that I could only imagine were supposed to be used for casting spells.

Different colored spell books.
There were framed photos of the shop’s psychics hanging on the wall.

Photos of the psychics who work at Omen.
The private readings were held behind drawn curtains.

A curtain for psychic readings.
Customers were also able to buy their own tarot card decks from the store’s collection.

Tarot card deck boxes.
I made a 15-minute appointment to have my tarot cards read by a psychic named Bailey Merlin.

Tarot card readings sign.
Merlin said she only works part-time at Omen in October because of how lucrative it is during tourist season.

The writer getting her tarot cards read by a psychic reader.
As I made my way out of Salem, I thought about how the city’s tourism industry thrives year after year because of the local shop owners and employees.

A line in Salem.
While some shops felt a bit gimmicky, I realized they’re what bring visitors from all over the world to Salem to partake in an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else.

A crowded Salem street.
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