Could Marblehead transform Salem gridlock into gold?

With a projected record 1 million visitors flocking to Salem this October, the Witch City continues to grow as a Halloween hotspot. But its smaller neighbor, Marblehead, may see opportunities amid the revelry.

As parking woes and massive crowds overwhelm Salem each October, are Marblehead businesses and officials missing out on ways to capitalize on the Halloween pilgrimages? Could Marblehead attract visitors seeking historical charm and a family-friendly experiences — without the headaches of overcrowding?

Families and visitors crowd the streets during Marblehead Chamber of Commerce’s trick-or-treat event, a testament to the town’s burgeoning October festivities. COURTESY PHOTOS / MARBLEHEAD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

“Marblehead is in a unique position to welcome people without it being as overwhelming as Salem,” said Xhazzie Kindle, Marblehead Arts Association director of operations.

Kindle suggested improved transportation options like a trolley circuit between the towns. Combined exhibits and performances with arts associations in Salem, Swampscott and Marblehead could also entice visitors, she said.

Screening the Halloween classic “Hocus Pocus” on an outdoor screen was another idea, playing off Marblehead’s connection as a filming location for the 1993 movie.

For Siobhan Phelan, who owns the boutique All Chic at 152, October brings an influx of shoppers from Salem.

“When they’re finished doing all their sightseeing there, they come over here and shop,” Phelan said. “And if it gets busy at Salem restaurants, they’ll come here.”

Phelan advocated for an Oktoberfest in Marblehead to complement Salem’s month-long Haunted Happenings festival. She said it could feature extended shopping hours, restaurant crawls, live music and other events.

Given Marblehead’s walkable size, Abby Schalck said tourists often stop by after finding Salem too crowded. As an employee at Marblehead Mercantile, she hears it firsthand.

“A lot of people come in and they say it was too busy in Salem,” Schalck said, “so we came here where it’s more quiet.”

Bewitching history

Marblehead has its own bewitching history that could complement Salem’s crowded scene.

Wilmot “Mammy” Redd, the only Marbleheader executed during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, is memorialized at Old Burial Hill cemetery. Her story offers an off-the-beaten-path option for history buffs and witch trial enthusiasts.

For more Halloween flair, architect Tom Saltsman’s elaborate, spooky displays on Pleasant Street possess Hollywood-quality sets.

Katherine Koch, executive director of the Marblehead Chamber of Commerce, said Salem’s Halloween season already benefits local lodging, restaurants and retail. But more could be done to promote Marblehead and ease transportation between the two towns, she said.

“People should know that we’re here and [we should] give them a way to get here and get back,” Koch said.

Chamber events like the trick-or-treating night on Oct. 26 help raise Marblehead’s holiday profile.

Past Chamber collaborations with Salem centered more on year-round initiatives, Koch said. But special events or promotional deals could certainly drum up business during October.

As visitors flock to the North Shore to soak in the Halloween spirit, Marblehead doesn’t want to remain a hidden gem. With some planning and vision, some businesses here see room to carve out their own niche.

“Marblehead has a lot to offer,” Schalck said. “It could be a great opportunity.”

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