Student Agency Buys Harvard Shop

A few balloons, an array of cookies arranged carefully on plastic plates and assorted fruit juices marked Harvard Student Agencies (HSA)’s quiet purchase of the Harvard Shop on JFK St. Friday afternoon.

After 18 years as the owner of the Harvard Shop, Paul Corcoran had decided to retire and sell the long-time Square establishment—the only business in the Square to carry solely Harvard insignia merchandise—to HSA.

Along with Let’s Go, the Harvard Shop will be HSA’s only for-profit enterprise and its first fully-stocked retail store. The new acquisition represents at least a 20-fold increase in HSA’s inventory.

He said his choices were either to sell or liquidate his inventory, and he trusted that selling to HSA would keep the store from changing too much.

“I’m at an age where I’m getting ready to retire,” Corcoran said. “It’s been a very happy match.”

The storeowner has had a long relationship with HSA through serving on the agency’s board of directors.

Months ago, Corcoran mentioned to HSA members that he was planning to sell his shop and would then no longer be a part of the HSA board.

The idea of owning the Harvard Shop sparked the HSA’s interest, said HSA Vice President Brian C. Clay ’02.

“We said ‘Hold on a second.’ Maybe we could keep the Harvard Shop alive and provide jobs for students,” Clay said.

For the past few months, HSA has been working out a deal with Corcoran for the purchase of the longtime Square establishment.

“It was a fair deal for both sides,” Clay said. “We both walked away as winners.”

The students who began work this weekend will continue to manage the Harvard Shop throughout the summer.

HSA members say they are determined to preserve the individuality and history of the Square establishment.

They will continue to employ Doris Jones, Corcoran’s assistant of nearly two decades. Jones cut the red ribbon outside the Harvard Shop symbolizing the change of ownership Friday.

At Friday’s reception, new manager Rebecca R. Rendell ’03 gave a brief tour of the store. The black-and-white photographs of Harvard athletic teams adorning the wall will remain, she says.

The only visible change so far will be the addition of class rings to the JFK St. inventory and the development of a Harvard Shop website expected to be functional by July 1.

Corcoran will stay on for at least another year as a consultant.

As students and members of the HSA board of directors nibbled on cookies and milled around the store on Friday, Corcoran reminisced a bit about the beginnings of the Harvard Shop 18 years ago.

He opened the store—“the only store in the country devoted exclusively to selling Harvard merchandise”—with two friends.

The first day they opened, Corcoran said, the store had only $67. But the gimmick they had devised proved successful and the business attracted national media attention and grew quickly, he said.

“We found a niche people were looking for,” he said.

Corcoran seemed pleased to hand over the ownership of the establishment as about 25 students and members of the HSA board of directors piled outside to watch the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

While Jones cut the ribbon, Corcoran said he expected business to be able to double with the students in charge.

Clay laughed and turned to the crowd. “Now come in and buy something,” he said.

—Staff writer Daniela J. Lamas can be reached at lamas@fas.harvard.edu.