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  • Brooke Austin, Staff Writer

Opinion: Envisioning the new Salem Center as a communal space with affordable options

The Salem Center. Photo by Alma Snortm-Phelps

Salem Center is a shopping mall in the heart of downtown. Unfortunately, it isn’t known for its incredible reputation. The Yelp reviews sum the space up pretty well: “Boarded windows, lights off and scattered people shuffling around with nothing to do. It looked like ‘Last Man on Earth,’ if you've seen that show”; “[I don’t know] how they are staying alive, let alone the smaller businesses”; “[The city] should just close it down, it's a waste of retail space.” These are just a few examples of what local residents are saying about Salem Center. Of course, then, it was news to the community when local investors Kelly McDonald, Patrick Carney and Mark Shipman bought out the acres to invest in renovating the mall. 

According to an article from the Statesman Journal, McDonald, Carney and Shipman are three business partners who pride themselves on being from Oregon. All three say they appreciate the potential Salem Center has to become a vibrant place and a better reflection of what they believe to be the essence of the Salem community. McDonald, Carney and Shipman are looking to renovate Salem Center in order to flip its entire connotation as a “horrible and miserable place to be,” and they plan to achieve that goal by catering to what the people living in Salem are looking for in a shopping center. 

South enterance to the Salem Center. Photo by Alma Snortum-Phelps

All of this begs the question: what do Willamette students, now calling Salem home, want in a shopping center? As the majority of Willamette consists of college students who are budgeting (i.e., learning to suck it up and eat the two end pieces of the bread loaf because even though you know it’s just bread, you still swear it tastes different), what are Bearcats looking for in a shopping center? 

The current Salem Center is, admittedly, a dud. Contrary to how it might seem within the on-campus bubble, Willamette college students do not make up the whole population of Salem, and thus, amenities in Salem Center need to apply to everyone in Salem. The center has chain department stores like American Eagle, Bath & Body Works and the scariest place to get your ears pierced, Claire’s. After several years of Salem Center’s continual decline, it is clear that these stores are not what the people of Salem are looking for. 

From a college student standpoint, what do the Bearcats want to see in the new and improved Salem Center? Some students expressed wanting public areas for people to spend time in without necessarily having to spend a lot of money. Annie Birch Wright (‘27) said, “A lot of infrastructure is built around keeping people moving and buying things, so I think it would be so cool to have a place where that isn’t the case.” Birch Wright also emphasized a desire to see the new Salem Center shift toward more sustainable development and take a few steps toward carbon neutrality.

Other students proposed the benefits of having basic necessities easily accessible, like expanding their walkable grocery store selection to more than just Safeway with its big lines and even bigger prices. Some proposed affordable clothing stores for students to grab staples. 

Though the students of Willamette are looking for a variety of things, it goes without saying that all are excited to see the renovations of Salem Center under McDonald, Carney and Shipman. Their goal is to “add new energy to this vibrant, human gathering place for greater Salem,” and despite what specific qualities people are looking for in the new shopping center, it’s clear that Salem residents are looking forward to seeing people use the full potential of Salem Center. 

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1 Comment

Apr 15

nice to Salem wants your business!

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