Colman C. Johnson and his wife, Jean Conrad Johnson, came to Cambridge 28 years ago from a farm in southern Vermont to find an easier way to make a living.
For most of those years, the Johnsons successfully ran a used book store on Church Street, The Book Case, which grew in volume as they bought almost any book people brought them. Today, Colman Johnson says, there are so many books in his store that he's lost count. "It's probably over one million, but we don't know exactly," he said.
Unfortunately, however, this story does not have a happy ending. The Johnsons are trying to unload their books at a 25 percent discount as they prepare to close up shop and move back to Vermont in the next few weeks or months. The Johnson family can no longer afford to stay in business.
"We can't sell enough at enough to pay for the rent that it takes to keep us in business," Colman Johnson said. "It's basically the cost of doing business in this area."
Kristin S. Demong, the president of Harvard Real Estate, which owns the building, disagrees that businesses in this area are experiencing more difficulties than those in others.
Demong, who called the Square "recession proof," said, "I think it's fair to say that Harvard Square is a terrific place to do business."
But The Book Case is not the first store in the area to go out of business. The Cambridge Book-smith, Emack and Bolio's Ice Cream, Pizzeria Regina, Luscious Licks and J.F. Olsson and Co. have all closed in the last few years.
Reading International, another specialty book store just down the street from The Book Case, closed a couple of weeks ago. Linda Waterman, a customer of The Book Case who has lived in the Square over 20 years, said the curse isn't limited to Church Street. "The Square is changing. It's losing a lot of its character," she said.
Harvard's Demong agreed that the specific businesses in the Square are changing. "We have a very dynamic tenant base. We're constantly trying to expand space for existing tenants and contract others," she said.
But Demong said that she is concerned that the character of the Square be preserved and that her firm actively seeks retailers who will bring diversity to the Square. "We have to make sure that we complement what's already here rather than try to clone it."
Demong said it is too early for her to say who will be renting out the space. She said she is confident Harvard will attract a "merchant that will add value to the Square."
As for merchants Colman and Jean Conrad Johnson, however, they will have to search for an easier way of living outside of Harvard Square