For almost 90 years, Central Barber Shop has been located at 1611 Massachusetts Avenue—commonly referred to as The Bence Building—in Agassiz, but now Harvard is forcing it to relocate, citing environmental concerns.
In 2007, Harvard discovered that there were dry-cleaning solvents emanating from Crimson Cleaners, another business in the Bence complex, according to Mary Power, senior director of community communications at Harvard. The results of extensive studies by the University showed that the solvents had “significant” effects on the environment.
In response, Harvard started to terminate its leases with various businesses in the building, most recently Three Aces Pizzeria. Negotiations have now begun to end the lease of Central Barber Shop, currently the only store that remains in the Bence complex.
“Our clean-up activities can advance more quickly in a vacant building,” said Power. “When we initially started the studies we did not expect to find such widespread contamination. The nature of the remediation is likely to be long-term and very complex.”
While Power said it was her belief that the reasons for emptying the building were made clear to the tenants, Central Barber Shop’s Alfred Iannacone, or “Fred the Barber,” as he is known to customers, disagreed.
“I don’t really know what’s going on,” he said. “They’re pressuring everyone out and I’m the only one left.”
Iannacone, who has worked in the barber shop for 30 years, called the treatment he has received from Harvard “very cold.” He said that he has been told to leave by January 2010, two years before the termination of his five-year lease.
While business has not been suffering too much from the financial crisis, a move could affect it drastically, he added.
“Right now, with the financial times not too good, you don’t want to go into the hole.”
“It [the shop] is my livelihood,” he said. “It’s my business. I brought up a family doing this.”
William W. Bloomstein, an Agassiz resident since 1994, said that there had been an implicit agreement between Harvard and the community that “the Bence Building was going to be protected for a long time.”
But Bloomstein added that he did not “see this as Harvard reneging on a promise,” as it was necessary to vacate the building for environmental reasons.
“Am I happy that the Bence Building is basically vacated? No. This is not a good thing for Mass Ave., or the community, but the goal is that Harvard will bring retail back there,” he said. “I’m going to take Harvard on its word.”
-Staff writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at email@example.com.