Salem’s downtown, for all intents and purposes, consists of East through West Main Street and a couple of side streets. To say this isn’t intended to diminish the area in any way; in fact, downtown Salem is a great place in large part due to its size. Salem has a population of about 25,000 people, and if you include Roanoke County and City in the figures (as people often do) there are about 300,000 people in the area. The area is lauded for its city conveniences and its small-town feel. This is due to the fact that Roanoke and Salem cover a lot of square mileage, and because there are two distinct downtown areas – Roanoke and Salem. Salem is technically an independent city, but is the County Seat of Roanoke County and often considered a part of Roanoke County in statistical matters. Despite people often pairing these areas together, Salem has its own culture, feel, and identity.
Downtown Salem is nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains; because very few of the buildings exceed three stories, one can see them from almost anywhere on Main Street. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a nice metaphor for Downtown Salem: beautiful, scenic, and rolling out with no particular sense of urgency. Salem does not have that “slow as molasses” feel of many southern cities, but despite a fairly busy road that runs through it, and a number of restaurants and shops that are often populated by patrons, Salem’s downtown never feels like it is rushing. Main Street in Salem runs along the Roanoke College campus, so there are often young people in the restaurants, various shops, or just strolling Main Street. The students give the area a more youthful feel, and helps motivate the area business to stay somewhat current. It also helps with the livelihood of the area – downtown Salem might never feel like it is rushing, but it also isn’t boring.
Downtown Salem has some of the small town staples; a few consignment/ second-hand shops, antique stores, pizza parlors, local bar and grills, coffee shops, and a local music shop. Almost all of the buildings along Main Street are old-fashioned red brick establishments. There are a few standout spots. Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea, for instance, is an excellent local franchise. The shops are always beautiful on the inside (in this case on the outside as well) and serve great coffee and tea. Macado’s is another great local franchise that is a fun place to grab a sandwich or a beer with friends. Mac and Bob’s, the local sports bar and restaurant, is equally popular. Salem’s public library is a must see. It is beautiful and has an excellent selection. Even if you aren’t an avid reader, I recommend going there just to appreciate how nice it is. There is also the Salem Farmers Market, which is another place that you can check out on weekends. Downtown Salem is a great place to take the family, or just enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and walk around. With clean sidewalks, and a small town feel that is reflected in the attitudes of the locals Downtown Salem is a great place to spend an afternoon.