Salem residents share perspectives on tourist crowds


Anastasia Petridis

Street vendors in Salem.

By Anastasia Petridis and Sasha Zirin

Over half a million tourists visited Salem, MA this October according to NBC Boston—an increase of 15 percent compared to last year—leaving residents with mixed opinions.

The uptick in visitation has been influenced by lifted COVID-19 restrictions, the city’s history, and the release of Hocus Pocus 2, which takes place in Salem. 

Salem resident Jen French believes the energy can be fun and exciting, and she understands that after getting through quarantine, large-scale tourist attractions like these can be a “whole new world.” But, after living in Salem for 13 years, she described this year’s tourism as a “breaking point,” questioning its safety. 

“It would benefit [the city of Salem] to spread out the love to other months besides October,” she said.

French said tourists often arrive expecting people to have activities for them, she said, leaving them without a plan. She encouraged people not to visit without an itinerary. 

According to French, the town lacks the infrastructure and staffing necessary to support the increasing number of tourists. She has difficulty accessing the roads to her house due to road closures caused by traffic. 

Economically, Salem’s tourism has a mixed effect. Resident Jerry Krall said most small businesses depend on the Halloween season to get through the year, but others have been harmed by the influx. 

Businesses that do not often get tourist clientele, like post offices and grocery stores, do not experience an increase in sales. Krall specifically noted a woman who owns a barber shop in the downcity area who has dealt with tourists “hanging out in her doorway, urinating in front of her business,” and generally being “nasty” during the tourist season. 

“I was just talking to my neighbors about the fact that a lot of people who come to visit aren’t aware that people are living here,” Krall said. “[They] go on people’s porches and areas that are clearly private because they have Halloween decorations. They’re being rude.” 

Considering that Salem is a smaller city containing under 50,000 people, multiple residents said the amount of people coming to visit felt like more than they had anticipated.

Emerson alum Jeff Bellin and his wife Laurie have lived in Salem for decades, working as tour guides and helping tourists navigate the Halloween season every year. Since they moved to Salem in the late 1980s, the tourist season has started earlier and earlier each year, this year beginning in late September. Jeff Bellin emphasized the city’s lack of resources, which is exacerbated by large tourist groups. 

“Salem is a relatively poor city. Except for this time of year, there’s not a whole lot of tax basis,” Jeff Bellin said. “[It is the] Halloween capital of the world. We don’t have the infrastructure to be able to handle it…we don’t have the parking, we don’t have the restaurants, we don’t have the staff to staff the restaurants.”.

While some residents are pessimistic about tourists, Salem’s large Wiccan population has a positive outlook, Laurie Bellin said. 

“The actual witches in Salem… embrace [tourism] because they feel like they have won [after] being persecuted years ago,” she said. “Salem has a tolerance. Even years ago there were a lot of new-agey crystal shops, and the town is built on that.” 

However, according to the Bellins, the descendants of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials have felt insulted in regard to the celebrations and romanticization of the events. One resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, believes it is sacrilegious to take the witch trials lightly because of the deaths of the young women. 

“[Salem] is the most important city in the country, hands down,” the resident said. “The witch trials are the foundation of our country’s legal system, which is important—not Halloween.”

Despite some negative effects of tourism on the residents, each resident mentioned a positive impact on both businesses and tourists. By supporting local businesses, visitors can boost Salem’s economy while educating themselves on the history by visiting the Salem Witch House and learning the history beyond magic and Halloween. 

A tourist, Megan Hoffman, 30, mentioned how her first Salem trip was a great experience. Although it was crowded, she said it was a place to learn about history and hopes to come back during the offseason. 

Despite the struggles some Salem residents may face during the Halloween season, they still love living in their town. The Bellins said they love the costumes, creativity, and vibrant energy some tourists have, and Salem remains a beautiful coastal city with easy access to Boston year-round. Krall had praised the town similarly, despite critical feelings towards tourists.

“It’s a great city with lots of great restaurants and entertainment,” Krall said. “I love living here.”