Local designer uses Instagram account to highlight Salem community

Vin Thomas, creator of Salem Takeover, poses with his puppy, Telly, outside Isaac’s in downtown Salem. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

There’s more to Salem than meets the eye.

That’s the premise of Salem Takeover, a homegrown Instagram account run by a different resident each week.

Last week’s poster was Joe McKay, a local musician and barista who used his time to showcase film photography, his favorite local food spots and life behind the scenes at Dutch Bros., where he works.

“I’ve learned over the last couple months that film photography is alive and well, especially here in Salem. Part of that is due to this place,” McKay wrote in a caption on a photo of The Shutterbug.

Previous posters have highlighted Salem history, Minto-Brown Island Park, happy hour with friends and local music.

Salem Takeover post by Emily Tobias (@emtobi), April 5, 2019.

McKay found out about the account a few years ago.

“Finally, somebody who thinks Salem is also a cool city and it’s not just a rip-off of Portland,” he remembered thinking.

Salem Takeover is the creation of local web designer Vin Thomas, a Calgary native who’s called Oregon’s capital home since 2004.

He started the account in early 2017 after a conversation with a few friends. Thomas mentioned it would be cool to have a place to show off what people like about Salem. His friend encouraged him.

“She was like, ‘Just do it,’” he said. They discussed possible names – Salem Baton or Handoff Salem – before settling on Salem Takeover.

Thomas posted the first week, with his friends following. About 30 people followed the account in the early weeks.

“We had nobody following but it was super fun,” he said.

Now, the following has grown to about 5,000 people.

Thomas changes the password weekly and shares it with the next participant. Each poster is introduced on Monday with a photo and biography about what they do in Salem and how they came to the city. For the rest of the week, they post daily, often with a lengthy caption telling a story about what makes the place or event special to them.

“What shocks me is the amount of interaction,” Thomas said. Followers often jump in to share their favorite menu items at a brunch place or their own stories of exploring a particular park.

Thomas takes a hands-off approach, limiting people to a few specific guidelines: no spam and no using the account just to promote a business or personal venture.

Many people post about their jobs or places they volunteer and spend time, but there are no ads or sponsored posts.

Salem Takeover post by Megan McConnell (@fullofbees) on Dec. 31, 2018.

In the 15 years he’s lived in Salem, Thomas has seen the city grow, adding businesses to a vibrant downtown and growing an arts and music scene. He wants to push back against the idea you have to go to Portland to find things to do.

“You feel like most of the buzz in Salem is this concert or this event, let’s go into Portland,” he said. “I always find new places to go on the account.”

As an artist, McKay says he appreciates Salem’s size: big enough to find venues where he can play his guitar and sing, but not so large that it’s hard to find a place in the arts scene.

“There’s an outlet for that in Salem and it’s accessible, whereas in a lot of big cities it’s not. It’s really hard to break into the music scene, it’s really hard to break into having a successful business,” he said.

Salem Takeover post by Diana Reyes (@hrh.diana.xx), Aug. 17, 2019.

Thomas spends about an hour a week on the account and usually has hosts lined up a month or two in advance.

Many posters tend to be younger and involved in local arts or businesses, but Thomas said he’s had teachers, retired painters and stay-at-home moms. He has a wishlist: a Willamette professor, a firefighter, a military member and people from different religions.

He encourages posters to showcase areas outside of downtown Salem, which has been well-covered in the account’s history.

When Thomas first moved to Salem, he found it difficult to meet people his age and figure out where to go and what to do. He’s heard from people moving to Salem who followed Salem Takeover in advance to get an idea of what life is like in the capital city.

He said Salem now is more accessible, with networking events and other venues to meet people, and hopes the Instagram can be part of that.

“It’s easier to be part of the Salem community,” he said.


Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.