Historic Salem loves its traditions, and one of its most beloved that has become popular in the region is Olde Salem Days, held the second Saturday in September.
The heart of downtown is closed to traffic to create one gigantic pedestrian mall which one usually associates with something you’d see in Europe. The event stretches along Main Street from the Courthouse and Roanoke College on the east end to the CVS near Chestnut Street on the west, plus the side streets.
To ensure cars stay out, City of Salem garbage trucks and snow plows are parked across the parallel roads, adding heft to the orange “Road Closed” signs.
The main draw of the event are the vendors stationed in neat rows along both sides of Main Street and the side blocks. A spokesman for the Salem Rotary Club, which sponsors the shindig, said there were some 275 vendors registered. Items for sale included clothing, candles, plaques, iron work, spices, honey, lavender products, ice cream, and much more.
In our modern world, most of the items we use are mass-produced, many are of dubious quality, and were often cranked out in overseas sweatshops. Ironically, while in the past few years some people seem to be trying to refight the US Civil War and get up in arms about monuments to people who died generations ago, they also turn a blind eye to what is essentially human slavery in our day: human trafficking and factory workers trapped in near slave-like conditions, all to keep the shelves of our big box stores filled with cheap foreign imports.
Against that backdrop, Olde Salem Days is a refreshing reminder of days gone by when Americans actually made things.
The Salem Rotary Club runs a tight ship, as seen from this notice on its website: “Only handmade or hand altered arts and crafts are allowed. Bake sale items must be home-baked goods only. In order to preserve the authenticity of Olde Salem Days, anyone selling an item that is not handmade, hand altered, or home-baked will be promptly removed from the show and will not be permitted to participate in future shows.”
Not only is the event a celebration of handmade craftsmanship, it’s also a celebration of community. After the years of Covid lockdowns and fear, this year’s event was packed, seemingly indicating people have all but lost that fear and want to get outside and re-connect with others again.
Eateries along Main Street were packed. Around 12:30, hopeful diners at Macado’s were told they would need to wait 30-45 minutes for a table, while a server at Frank’s Pizza near the library said that, as of around 1:30, they had served 200 tables already. He said that was unbelievable for a lunch crowd and that they seldom ever hit 200, and on the rare days that they do, it’s only by closing time on a “crazy busy” Saturday.
Hanging Rock resident Scott Crawford, who was enjoying the event with his wife Sonja, had this to say. “We love going to Olde Salem Days – it is a wonderful annual event, allowing the community to come out and support local businesses and explore a large number of vendor booths. It is just so nice being around folks from the community, sometimes even running into people you have not seen in a long time!”
After several hot, dry weeks in the region, the cloudy and pleasant day was at first a reprieve. However, shortly after 1:00 it began to rain, sending festival-goers home and vendors scurrying to pack up their wares.
Still, since the event was scheduled to close by 4:30 anyway, most of the day was celebrated as planned.
The next major craft show and small town gala in the Valley will be the Vinton Fall Festival on Saturday, October 7.