The Once and Future Cinema

Once upon a time, there was a movie theater in Salem. Actually, there were a lot of movie theaters in Salem once upon a time (check this out). But the one we’re talking about opened in 1982 as the Sack Cinema in Salem’s East India Mall. The mall had opened just a couple of years earlier. The cinema boasted three screens and had an arcade next door. Who knew?
Lots has changed since 1982. The mall and the cinema have had a succession of names with more or less success. Today, it’s the Witch City Mall that houses the cinema. Its latest incarnation, Cinema Salem, opened in 2006. It quickly became a popular community treasure, but business flagged in recent years.

In the fall of 2019, the cinema’s owner announced he was looking for a buyer. For a variety of reasons, including Covid-19, a sale was not finalized until almost a year later. By that time, the theater had been closed for the better part of 2020, and no one could predict a timeline for reopening.

Understandably, some folks thought the new owners might be a little crazy. But they and their team prefer to call themselves optimists as they crank up the popcorn machine once again.

More History of Cinema in Salem

During a good part of the 20th century, Salem had a slew of movie theaters. At least one of them, the Paramount, was quite grand. It's possible that CinemaSalem occupies some portion of the Paramount's footprint. According to cinematreasures.org, the Paramount opened in 1930, originally called the Publix. It was a cavernous, palatial place that could seat upwards of 2,000, with elaborate murals, ornate moldings, lots of gold trim, two grand staircases, fake boxes on either side of the proscenium, and two sets of curtains that opened one after the other to reveal the screen when the show began. Oh, and a Mighty Wurlitzer organ that somehow ended up in a pizza joint in Seattle. For real. But that’s another story.

The Paramount stood grandly until it was demolished in the early 1970s, a victim of urban renewal, television, and rental fees for first-run films that charged on the basis of house size. The stretch of Essex Street where the Paramount once reigned is now part of a pedestrian mall. The theater's former footprint is occupied by the Witch City Mall and a municipal parking garage.

Most of Salem's other movie theaters were located several blocks from the Paramount, near the intersection of Essex and Summer streets. Also check out this article from the Patch on the history of Salem movie houses.