Utility Before Ownership

Businesses in the square ought to cater to student needs

Last week marked another sad milestone in the history of Harvard Square, as yet another independently owned business shuttered its doors. The latest casualty is the Greenhouse Restaurant and Coffee Shop, which has stood at the nexus of Harvard square for 30 years.

The Greenhouse’s closing is but the latest reminder of the trend of locally owned businesses shutting down, and being supplanted by private chains—the most recent examples being Qdoba and the International House of Pancakes. While many have expressed concerns that Harvard Square is losing its tradition of supporting locally owned establishments, the real issue going forward is the loss of businesses that support the Cambridge community

Our main concern with corporate enterprises entering the Square is not their influence on tradition but rather their ability to meet student needs. Rising rental rates have led not to an oppressing commercial atmosphere, but rather to an insipid conformity. Today a total of four different banks occupy prime real-estate in the square—an entirely superfluous number considering their identical function.

Property owners—Harvard amongst them—should consider not only the money that they rake in but also the community and atmosphere they hope to create in Harvard Square. That means considering which businesses will best serve the Cambridge community and the students right next door in addition to economic concerns. That does not, however, necessitate an inherent preference for locally owned businesses just for nostalgia’s sake—it is the business’ role in shaping the community, not who makes the money or manages the business, that matters most in creating a welcoming and vibrant Square.

Looking forward, we hope that these concerns will be considered in the development of Allston and particularly the key intersection of North Harvard St. and Western Ave., affectionately known as Barry’s Corner, which may soon become the “Harvard Square of Allston.” The key in renting out property space will be to seek differentiation, with an eye toward student and community utility. We hope that Barry’s Corner will not end up with another four banks to facilitate student withdrawals, but rather see appealing shops and eateries that will benefit students, faculty, staff, and Allston community members alike.