Last weekend saw the World of Witches Museum in Salem, Massachusetts permanently close its doors. Opened in the Summer of 2010, the museum represented “a coming of age for the Witch movement, which allows us to recognize that we do have a history worthy of sharing” according to Rev. Don Lewis, Curator of the Museum, and chief executive officer of the Correllian Nativist Tradition. However, due to a string of misfortunes, staying open was no longer a viable option. In a statement sent to The Wild Hunt, Rev. Don Lewis recounted the many challenges the museum faced, and the health problems that finally made him decide that closing was the best option.
“This last Halloween season was especially hard for a lot of Salem businesses. The whole season was somewhat slow, but the snowstorm on Saturday of Halloween weekend, which would be anticipated as the biggest shopping day of the season, was devastating. I had hoped that this winter would be better than the previous one and it turned out to be as mild a winter as the previous year’s winter had been severe -but in a town geared to a single holiday off season business was just as hard and slow with a mild winter. A number of Salem businesses have found it necessary to either close or move to new locations this spring, especially in the Pickering Wharf area.
At the beginning of the March I found myself in the hospital with cardiac problems exacerbated by stress and exhaustion. It was made clear to me that I needed to make some changes in my life and could no longer sustain the workload I had been carrying. Although there were people I could trust and rely upon to help in the short term, and they did help tremendously, there was no one available that I could see as a long term manager for the Museum. Closing the Museum was a very hard choice, but it is one I felt I had to make.”
The World of Witches Museum is the second Witch-related business in the Pickering Wharf area to close its doors in recent months. In January, Laurie Cabot, Salem, Massachusetts’ official Witch, announced that she would be closing the doors of The Official Witch Shoppe at the end of that month, bringing to an end Cabot’s 42-year run of owning and operating Witch-related stores in Salem. Some observers, including Salem business-owner and promoter Christian Day, noted that in addition to a weak Halloween season in 2011, tourist foot traffic has shifted somewhat away from the Pickering Wharf area towards the renovated Peabody Essex Museum and the Bewitched statue.
“I think there are a constellation of issues keeping the Wharf in the situation it’s in. As Ed [Hubbard] pointed out, my own marketing of my shops on Essex Street has probably contributed to the shift in foot traffic to that area but I have, over the years, hosted events there in hopes of spreading around the work that I do but it was hard to make it work due to the space limitations of venues. A huge factor in the popularity of Essex Street is the 2002 renovation of the Peabody Essex Museum, which created an enormous buzz around the street. The Bewitched Statue brought people even further down, which is what inspired me to put HEX at it’s slightly off-the-path location. As a member of Destination Salem, we’ve often discussed ways of encouraging that area to help market itself better but it was hard sometimes to get buy-in. My own opinion is that the landlord needed to do a lot more as the owner of the space to brand it more clearly as a shopping and dining destination. Laurie Cabot has, perhaps, the most recognizable brand of all of us, including the Peabody Essex Museum, and she had trouble at the Wharf as well. I think, though, that the largest factor is probably the economy. With so many people unemployed and money as tight as it is, I think people are spending more carefully. We’ve had at least two closings on Essex Street recently so the downturn is effecting people there as well. While both my shops and Crow Haven Corner are doing well, both Lorelei and I have had to spend quite a bit of money in advertising to maintain that success. It’s a hamster wheel that’s not easy to keep running on but we’re determined. That said, I don’t think I could make it work at Pickering Wharf myself.”
One obvious question is how this closing will affect the larger Correllian Tradition, and Witch School, the successful Internet-based learning program that has been closely intertwined. According to Ed Hubbard, a Correllian Elder and CEO of Witch School International, the closing would make no difference in the day-to-day operations of the school. Meanwhile, many of the museum’s Correllian-oriented artifacts and exhibits are being moved to the Sacred Sea Temple in Georgia, overseen by Stephanie Neal, Temple Head and Arch Priestess within the tradition. Neal expressed that she felt the museum, ultimately, was a good idea that moved the Pagan community forward.
“Even though the World of Witches Museum had a relatively short life span, it greatly advanced Pagan thought, to the wider community and its influence continues to reaffirm it was a good decision to open the Museum.”
While Salem has become the epicenter of Halloween in America in recent years, that’s no guarantee of success, especially in these uncertain times as we slowly crawl our way out of one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history. New businesses are especially susceptible to failure, and just one factor not going right can make things unsustainable. The World of Witches Museum faced many challenges, and in the end, the smarter move was to walk away than lose money or further risk the health of the curator. No doubt the Correllian Nativist Tradition, Witch School, and other related projects like Pagans Tonight will continue their impressive successful track-records, learning important lessons from this experience. I wish them all well, and hope that Rev. Don Lewis makes a full recovery.