Witchy Town’s Worry: Do Too Many Psychics Spoil the Brew? (N.Y. Times)

Lorelei Stathopoulos is concerned Salem will lose its “quaint reputation.” Photo: Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times.
By KATIE ZEZIMA. Published: May 26, 2011
SALEM, Mass. — Like any good psychic, Barbara Szafranski claims she foresaw the problems coming.
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times

Christian Day, who owns two shops, thinks competition is a good thing.

Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times

Debra Ann Freeman read a customer’s tarot cards in Salem, Mass.

Her prophecy came in 2007, as the City Council was easing its restrictions on the number of psychics allowed to practice in this seaside city, where self-proclaimed witches, angels, clairvoyants and healers still flock 319 years after the notorious Salem witch trials. Some hoped for added revenues from extra licenses and tourists. Others just wanted to bring underground psychics into the light.

Just as Ms. Szafranski predicted, the number of psychic licenses has drastically increased, to 75 today, up from a mere handful in 2007. And now Ms. Szafranski, some fellow psychics and city officials worry the city is on psychic overload.

“It’s like little ants running all over the place, trying to get a buck,” grumbled Ms. Szafranski, 75, who quit her job as an accountant in 1991 to open Angelica of the Angels, a store that sells angel figurines and crystals and provides psychic readings. She says she has lost business since the licensing change.

“Many of them are not trained,” she said of her rivals. “They don’t understand that when you do a reading you hold a person’s life in your hands.”

Christian Day, a warlock who calls himself the “Kathy Griffin of witchcraft,” thinks the competition is good for Salem.

“I want Salem to be the Las Vegas of psychics,” said Mr. Day, who used to work in advertising and helped draft the 2007 regulations. Since they went into effect, he has opened two stores, Hex and Omen.

But not everyone is sure that quantity can ensure quality. Lorelei Stathopoulos, formerly an exotic dancer known as Toppsey Curvey, has been doing psychic readings at her store, Crow Haven Corner, for 15 years. She thinks psychics should have years of experience to practice here.

“I want Salem to keep its wonderful quaint reputation,” said Ms. Stathopoulos, who was wearing a black tank top that read “Sexy witch.” “And with that you have to have wonderful people working.”

Under the 2007 regulations, psychics must have lived in the city for at least a year to obtain an individual license, and businesses must be open for at least a year to hire five psychics. License applicants are also subject to criminal background checks.

Ms. Stathopoulos says a garden-variety reader makes 40 percent of a $35 reading that lasts 15 minutes. She charges $90 and up for a half-hour of her services, and keeps all of that.

Now, talk has started about new regulations that would include a cap on the number of psychic businesses, but the grumbling has in no way reached the level of viciousness that occurred in 2007, when someone left the mutilated body of a raccoon outside Ms. Szafranski’s shop and Mr. Day and Ms. Stathopoulos got into a fight.

Ms. Szafranski says she plans to send the council an official complaint in June.

This time, she has no prediction how it will turn out.