Salem is a relatively quiet town when it comes to nightlife. Although many of its residents like it that way, others are taking steps to revive the concert scene and provide youth with more activities.
One step at the center of this quest is to bring back public information kiosks to downtown, where everyone can advertise events and services. They would serve the purposes of economic improvement, free speech and cultural promotion, said organizers.
Kiosks that once occupied downtown street corners were taken down two years ago as part of a beautification effort. City officials cited the unattractiveness and maintenance difficulties as reasons for the removal. They would be replaced if it was determined that they were a necessity to the community. Since then, artists and venues have been posting their flyers on local businesses’ bulletin boards, but this hasn’t always been easy.
“Free speech doesn’t apply to private businesses. Store owners can remove anything they deem offensive or competing,” said Jeremy Crofoot, secretary of the CAN-DO downtown neighborhood association and an enthusiastic kiosk activist.
It can also create a sense of awkwardness.
“Businesses sacrifice by advertising competing venues. It doesn’t feel right to do that. A lot of bands don’t do it, and fewer people show up for events. On the other hand, kiosks are neutral,” said Mike Peters, drummer and manager of the band Motae, who is now using MySpace, radio, mass texting, and local businesses to advertise. “Not having kiosks has created a stale point in the whole music scene. All the bands are affected by it. Kiosks are assertive, while other methods of advertising are passive.”
Downtown store owners pay high prices to have display windows, and it became prime advertising space.
“I used to allow people to put up posters on my window, but this failed after a while,” said Derek Tall, owner of Cherry Redd Boutique. “I want to support events, but the front window is too valuable. Now, I only display my merchandise and the events that I sponsor. I post other people’s events on the inside of the store.”
The purchase and clean-up of kiosks can be an expensive project, so neighborhood associations and concerned parties have been brainstorming ideas for months.
“We need funding and budget for maintenance from the city, from individuals or from neighborhood associations,” said Crofoot, who is presenting the idea to other interest groups in town.
The funding could potentially come from CAN-DO’s communications funds because the kiosks would help enable communication with the public, from Go Downtown! property tax funds because the kiosks could help promote businesses, and from individuals or organizations willing to adopt kiosks and volunteer to clean them.
Crofoot’s proposed kiosks are weatherproof and bug-resistant, with three keyed 4″ x 4″ acrylic glass windows. He thinks three kiosks, which run about $3500 each would be sufficient. Placement would be determined through dialogue with the city. Other proposals include electronic kiosks, or kiosks made by local artists.
Part of the plan is to include a business directory in the kiosks, to re-direct people from the mall into downtown shops, restaurants and bars, and to make it easier for consumers to know what’s available. Aside from this, the kiosks would most likely be used to advertise non-mainstream events targeted to a young audience,” said city councilor Laura Tesler.
“You have to allow free speech in a town square, even if it attracts more people with green hair to the area. Everyone is welcome downtown,” she said.
Dr. Robert Luther, associate pastor at the First Baptist Church downtown welcomes the kiosks.
“We are certainly interested in a more vibrant downtown, but we also want a clean and positive downtown. We have an entire block and a half to host community events,” he said, adding that the church might use the kiosks to advertise its gatherings.
Linda Norris, Salem city manager, suggested those interested in adding a new kiosk downtown would be better served by talking with people involved in the city’s Vision 2020 process, which is, in part, developing plans for a town square gathering place.
Norris said she hadn’t received any complaints about the lack of downtown kiosks until a recent e-mail from a CAN-DO member.
Artists interested in submitting a proposal or those who want to help with adopting and funding can contact Crofoot at 503-385-5899