It started with me and a friend eagerly hatching plans at a birthday dance party. Several years later, it finishes with me alone at my computer, quickly typing in the early morning hours before my kids awaken.
After three years of telling stories about this city, Salem Is ends today. I feel both sadness and relief. I still am in love with this online magazine that my friend Chris Hagan and I brought into being and that I kept going after he moved on to bigger opportunities elsewhere in the country. I still am in love with the city and its stories — with the fascinating people, culture and history I continue to encounter daily — and I still long to share these discoveries with others so that they, too, can realize how great Salem can be. I still am in love with all of the creativity I found along the way, with the writers, photographers and artists who jumped on board to help make this idea happen, to capture Salem’s stories for everyone to see.
But the relief I feel in letting the idea go shows me I’ve made the right choice.
My life was in a much different place when Chris and I started the project. First of all, there were two of us working together to build the site, recruit the storytellers, seek the stories, edit and post the content, spread the word and find new readers. Chris and I were a good pair, our varied talents synching in a way that covered all the bases we needed — he with the tech smarts and vast knowledge of the city’s past and present, me with the editing and organizational skills, both of us with the writing chops, journalistic background and connections with other storytellers in the community.
When he moved away two years ago, I tried hard to find another person to help me run the magazine, but to no avail. I quickly learned something that plagues all ventures where you need the help of talented people but you’re unable to pay them: those who have the right skills often don’t have time for the project, and those who have the time often don’t have the right skills.
I soldiered on without a counterpart for a good two years. But in that time, I had a baby — my second boy — and now I have two energetic youngsters who require more of my attention and energy every day. Also in that time, my list of Salem Is contributors dwindled — some moved away, some got too busy with other parts of their life to continue doing stories. As a result, I wrote more of the stories on my own — something that excited me from a creative standpoint, but sometimes became a burden as I tried to balance the work with my growing family. The magazine began to feel more and more like a solo project.
Then, several months ago, I made a dramatic career change — I went from working part-time, which I had done for several years while raising my babies, back to a full-time job, and at a completely different place to boot. With that change, I knew the end of Salem Is had come. If I was going to juggle my two young boys with full-time work and still keep my sanity (as well as my marriage), the magazine had to go. I feel relief knowing that I will no longer have the stress of filling my editorial calendar or the late-night hours of writing and editing content.
It was an amazing three years. Along the way I learned why the heck a grasshopper lurks in the alley downtown beside Whitlock’s, I met a champion ultrarunner and a record-holding cyclist, I got to know talented people who build community through theatre and through sketching, and I brought together a diverse group of nonprofits — on this website and in person — to share their missions and recruit new volunteers.
My contributors — to whom I owe infinite thanks — met equally fascinating people: a peace activist who drives a pedi-cab, a teenage beatboxer, a winemaker using ancient farming methods, men who keep alive the comfortable tradition of barber shops.
Salem Is was and will continue to be many things to me and to this community. It was a place where people could find stories that made them feel a bit prouder of the city in which they lived — I heard from many of these happy readers online and in person. Hopefully, it will continue to serve this role — I will leave the site up indefinitely so that new readers can browse the archives and learn about their city. And, you never know — someday I might feel the urge to tell a certain story and post it here (but don’t count on anything).
To me, the site also was a living embodiment of how to turn an idea into reality, how to move beyond talking about doing something to taking the chance of actually doing it. Even though this project is ending, I will always be proud that it existed, that Chris and I took our late-night conversation and turned it into something real that impacted many in this community, if only for a short time.
Salem has numerous stories waiting to be told. We only shared a fraction of them. It’s up to everyone to keep sharing, keep being curious, keep talking to each other, keep asking questions and then looking for answers. If Salem Is helped you see, even a little, how this is a city worth noticing, then we did our job. Now it’s your turn to keep the tradition going.
P.S. — Extended thanks go out to everyone who contributed content to this site — they shared their time and their talents with no compensation, and I am forever grateful. In particular, I want to call out a few dedicated people who (almost) never said no when I asked for their help: Phil Decker, Laura Sauter, Anne Lapour, Scott Johnson, Megan Crandall, Frank Miller and Diane Stevenson.
P.P.S. — Please make sure you check out Phil Decker’s final hike through the Salem National Forest. You might recognize someone near the end.
Sarah Evans is the co-founder and now-departing editor of Salem Is. She only managed to write the first paragraph of this essay before her boys woke up and started asking, “What are you doing, Mom?”