The Harvard Square Business Association honored Sheldon Cohen, a man known for more than six decades as the “unofficial mayor of Harvard Square,” at a storytelling celebration on Tuesday night.
Approximately 60 community members, including business owners and Cambridge officials, gathered at The Atrium on Church Street to reminisce about Cohen, who founded the iconic Out of Town News kiosk that sits on the central island in Harvard Square.
“Nothing says Harvard Square business more than Sheldon Cohen,” said Denise Jillson, executive director of the HSBA.
“It was such an emotional situation, especially when you’ve spent six decades here,” Cohen said. “Listening to people’s stories—words can’t express.”
Carl F. Barron, former owner of Putnam Furniture in Central Square, remembered the early days of Cohen’s career in his story. For nearly ten years, Cohen and his father hawked newspapers together in front of the Harvard Square MBTA station.
“He was the loudest voice in Harvard Square and could be heard from one end to the other selling those newspapers,” Barron said.
After Cohen’s father died, Cohen continued the family business. He founded Out of Town News, Inc., in 1955. Cohen sold the business to Hudson News in 1994. It is currently operated by Muckey’s Corp.
Cohen also operated Out of Town Tickets, which he recently sold to Ace Tickets. He has been looking to sell his last business, Community Mapping, Inc., since he announced his retirement last November.
Over the years, Out of Town News has become a Cambridge institution.
For many a Cantabrigian—including Anthony D. Galluccio, a former Massachusetts state senator and Cambridge mayor—hawking newspapers at Out of Town was a first job and a welcome opportunity to earn a little pocket money.
“As a hawker, it was one of the most exciting times of my life,” Galluccio said.
Cohen’s trove of historical knowledge and his generosity were also mentioned by attendees as they dined on a meal of chicken soup and spaghetti and meatballs.
“He [influenced] so many people,” said Cambridge Postmaster Kathy Lydon. “My boss gave me a list of things to do when I started, but [Cohen] taught me the history.”
Kelly Thompson Clark, president and CEO of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, called Cohen a “guiding light in the business community.”
Daniel O’Neill, community relations director of the Cambridge division of The Salvation Army, recalled that Cohen often donated Red Sox and Patriots tickets to the charitable organization.
The evening ended with a story from Cohen himself, thanking each of the guests for their words.
Cohen, a resident of Jamaica Plain, said he plans to remain involved in the Harvard Square community.
“Now I’m thinking ‘What does Harvard Square need?’ I want the community and future students to understand the Square and the value of it,” Cohen said.
—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at email@example.com.