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Nov. 10--One of the most eagerly anticipated businesses downtown is still under construction, but its doors are already open.

The Hotel Salem, the now second Lark-operated hotel in downtown Salem, formally opened its doors to guests on Monday -- even as construction continues on parts of the hotel. It takes up the old Newmark's Department Store building, bringing with it 44 single- and double-bed rooms, a lobby bar, roof-top dining space and additional bar in the basement.

Lark, headquartered in New England, also operates The Merchant on Washington Street.

The business got ample attention during its permitting phases as it targeted the Pedestrian Mall, one of the most visible and heavily walked parts of the city. With it, a wave of concerns about noise, parking issues and more followed the project even to its debut this week.

Looking past the paint cans and step ladders inside, a visitor can see the potential of the business -- one that adds its own challenges for those who work there. Just ask Josh Labbe, general manager of the hotel, as he felt around walls in one room for non-existent light switches.

"Forty-four different rooms, 44 different lighting configurations," he said, laughing as he finally found the switch he was looking for.

From the beginning, Lark aimed to create an atmosphere that is "a homage toward all New England department stores, the downtown anchor stores that used to exist mid-century, in style," company chief inspiration officer Dawn Hagin said in 2016.

They've certainly created it. A lounge in the back of the first floor features old cameras and telephones typical of Newmark when it was in operation half a century ago, and rooms are adorned with period color styles and art that have that '60s era retail feel.

"We're kind of at the dawn of before the anchor stores took over the area, so that's what we were trying to capture," Labbe said. "We have the original marble staircase from when it was a department store."

As of Friday, 42 of the 44 rooms were either ready for guests or already occupied, with prices ranging from $159 to $709 based on room size, number of beds and season. "The Roof," an appropriately named rooftop deck, is also still under construction and targeting completion early next year, according to Labbe.

With work on the dining space still moving along, it was unclear when it would be open for guests and locals popping in for a drink, Labbe said. Further details from a contractor building the project weren't available Thursday evening on deadline.

Of course, the project hasn't been smooth sailing. City officials and police heard plenty from neighbors throughout construction -- especially in recent weeks, as work often continued past scheduled hours.

The project also blew way off course on its schedule, with initial plans in early 2016 calling for guests to be staying there by April of this year. As time went on, the project lost its chances at hosting guests during Halloween. The debut of the still unfinished hotel came a week after the festivities ended, and without a functioning dining area to feed guests.

The hotel is also running on temporary occupancy permits, with the goal to get its final certificate of occupancy once "punch list" items at the end of construction are wrapped up next year, Labbe confirmed.

But once The Hotel Salem is fully functional, it'll be a huge part of Salem tourism, according to Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem.

"Lark Hotels are all unique, and they have a creative approach to both their properties and hospitalities," Fox said. "It's going to not fill a gap, but create its own niche in Salem."

Even further, the hotel sits in the middle of three parking garages, though it doesn't have reserved spaces in any of them. The business works with guests to help them connect with parking. The staff outlines the parking options as part of the booking process, Labbe said.

"We're heavily in communication with all of our guests to model the arrival that fits their needs the best," he said. "All of our guest services associates are effectively concierges for the hotel, so nothing's too big or too small for us."

As things stood on Friday, guests had already booked rooms for Halloween next year, according to Labbe.

And for Fox, that's no surprise.

"People plan a year in advance to come to Salem for October," she said. "People want to be downtown, they want to be experiencing what's new, and the restaurants are really good. I'm looking forward to seeing how the hotel does once it has all the food and beverage options open."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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