Rows of industrial lighting and dark mahogany windowsills line the interior of O’Brien Meats on Main Street. An impressive stonework patio plays host to several 1,600-pound stone tables, as the family-owned business which has been in the area for nearly 45 years works to update their space.
And the renovations couldn’t be more timely. Salem’s newly approved Downtown Plan has business owners and Salem residents alike excited for what they hope will become a booming downtown scene, filled with plenty of businesses and entertainment options, renovated for a more aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.
Todd O’Brien, the second generation business owner of the shop, said he has high hopes for the renovations. Not only is he in the process of completely renovating the space, which will include specialized wood work for a rustic feel, but he is also adding several new features to the business, such as a deli, a vegetable bar, sushi bar, minimart and café.
“You kind of have to keep up with the times,” O’Brien said of the updates. “We needed to expand and give people more reasons to come here. It was kind of fade away or modernize.”
He said he hopes to have most of the renovations completed by March, though it will be a continual process. The store has many regular customers, and will continue to offer the high quality meat that they have been accustomed to.
“I guess we’re like an old shoe. Old things you get comfortable with,” O’Brien joked of the businesses’ secret to longevity. “We try to cater to the person saving money, so we offer package specials, but we also have some high-end steaks, filets, prime ribs and aged meats from the Midwest.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the project is the exterior, which O’brien said he hopes to turn into an open-mic entertainment space during the warmer months. O’Brien said he worked closely with Salem City planners to get a feel for their vision of what they want the downtown area to be.
“What this town needs is more interaction off of Main Street,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got the space, and we wanted more people to be able to access what we have.”
O’Brien said he is thankful for his talented friends who have spearheaded the project, and also said that Cece Bell, a successful artist and author who grew up in Salem, has expressed interest in adding her artwork to the building.
For O’Brien, who spent most of his late teens and early 20’s working in the shop, his butcher skills are now second nature to him. His parents, Gladys and William O’Brien, opened the business in ‘70s. O’brien attended Roanoke College and pursued a career in social work and mental health in various parts of the country before returning to Salem when his father was dealing with health issues.
The business continues to stay in the family, and O’brien said his son, Jeremy, is largely to thank for the recent renovations.
“He wanted to do this,” O’Brien said. “He’s kind of behind all of this. I don’t know if I would want to do it if it wasn’t for him.”
O’Brien said the best part about his job is that it serves as an avenue for him to help those in need. The store works with Salem’s Penguin Club, an altruistic civic club, to prepare food baskets for those in need. He said he also enjoys helping those who come into the shop who may be struggling.
“It’s just like social work, in a way,” O’Brien said. “You can help someone with something practical, such as food needs, but at the same time get to know people.”
“I wanted a place where people can interact and feel comfortable,” he added. “Good things come out of people doing what they’re supposed to do.”