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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

"Dying downtown" showing new life and vitality

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A stranger driving through downtown Salem a year ago, would have probably thought, 'This is a dying town,' after seeing the many vacant storefronts. Heck, even local residents often commented on the lack of activity on the square.

But what a difference a year makes.

Considering the continuing, sorry state of the economy, the Salem square has made an improbable -- and quick -- comeback.

Since last March, Kerri Lewis has moved the Ozark Bead Company in to the long-vacant building at the corner of Church and Main Street, Karrol and Vicki Fowlkes turned a small building next to the bead shop into a business office, and, just last week, they opened "Whatever...," in the old Short's Hardware building, selling an ecclectic mixture of merchandise people are excited about.

Short's Hardware was vacant because "The Groovy Little Flower Shop" moved out of it, and into a building owner Monica Bullard bought at a foreclosure auction, on the east side of the square.

In March of 2011, two other buildings were vacant because they were in foreclosure. Since they were also auctioned, a portrait studio has moved in to the historic Castleberry Building, and Tees to Please and More recently opened in the old Premier Furniture building.

On the other end of the east side, a run down office building has been transformed into the bright and inviting A and K Salon and Boutique.

On the north side of the square, the Trading Company, opened by Paula Bowers less than two years ago, has successfully replaced an antique/junk store that failed.

Since a string of restaurants had come and gone, many predicted failure but, after nearly two years, Swingle's Family Diner is going strong on the south side of the square.

While the new kids in town are getting notice, some "old timers" who held their own through tough times should be mentioned.

Kristina Breen remembers when her Sweet Repeats Consignment Shop was about the only retail option on the square.

Five years ago, Diane and Jeff Van Buhler opened the Salem Square Bakery, after thoroughly remodeling a building in need of some TLC.

Because the square surrounds the courthouse, the center of county government, many long-time non-retail businesses remain in the area -- they've just got more company these days.

Early Saturday, May 12, vendors began setting up for the first Salem Farmers Market on Pickren Street. It got off to an encouraging start, attracting six vendors and a steady stream of curious consumers. It is another attaction that will bring people to town to shop and visit.

Zoom the picture out to see the whole city of Salem and there are restaurants and convenience stores on Highway 62/412 open and ready to serve. Another Season is aways a fun visit, and Bakers Pharmacy and Salem Drug both carry their own unique lines of gifts that will surprise you if you haven't dropped in to check them out.

In other words, Salem's business community is more vibrant than it may appear on the surface -- and showing signs of new life at a time other towns are still struggling to recover from recession.

People who come to visit during the Homecoming Day Festival on May 25 and 26 may be surprised at how much has changed for the better -- in just a year.