Cantabrigians held a public meeting Tuesday evening to learn about and discuss &pizza;’s plans to move into Harvard Square, with some residents voicing concerns that &pizza;’s arrival may detract from the Square’s unique character.
Residents were vocal in expressing their concerns—large and small—regarding &pizza;’s potential impact to the Square, including what they characterized as too large a storefront. The Washington, D.C.-based pizza chain plans to move into two adjacent spaces on Brattle St. that formerly housed newsstand Crimson Corner and restaurant Tory Row.
African and African American Studies and History of Art and Architecture professor Suzanne P. Blier opened the meeting, which was held at the Cambridge Savings Bank and attended by Cambridge City Councillors, Harvard Square Business Association Executive Director Denise A. Jillson, representatives from &pizza; and its architectural firm, and several dozen residents.
After the Cambridge Historical Commission said there would not be another public meeting about &pizza;, Blier and the new local advocacy group Harvard Square Neighborhood Association set up Tuesday’s meeting. &pizza; co-founder and chief executive Michael Lastoria attended the meeting to respond to residents’ concerns.
Blier said she wants plans for the eatery to better fit in with Harvard Square’s historical character.
“When we think about any new building, any kind of new engagement, we’re thinking about the broader setting,” Blier said. “The Brattle Street building—there was a lot of concern just because right now Harvard Square is so hot within the context of commercial development, and there’s the sense that we really want to retain some piece of it going forward.”
Resident Marilee B. Meyer said that while the plans had improved since their original presentation, she was concerned about how the building’s branding—which many characterized “sterile” and contemporary—would look in the Square.
“What I am envisioning is something that’s very modern and sleek and basically shopping mall-worthy, and not historically appropriate for that kind of building and the surrounding context,” Meyer said.
One attendee said she was worried about whether the &pizza; storefront would “enhance the unique character of the Square,” as it will be located in a central spot at the Square’s main intersection and right outside its MBTA stop.
Another resident later echoed this same concern: “Just try to understand where we’re coming from and try to understand that this isn’t any location, this is the center of Harvard Square,” she said. “It will form what people think about Harvard Square.”
Lastoria said that &pizza;’s existing stores are all different, as each tries to fit well in its respective neighborhood.
“We spend a tremendous amount of time making sure that each shop reflects the neighborhood and community,” Lastoria said. &pizza; also plans to display local artists’ work under the outside awnings and inside the store and plans to hire directly from Cambridge residents, according to Lastoria.
“It’s not just another pizza shop,” Lastoria said. “You see articles about being a good neighbor published nationally about all the work that we’ve done in terms of giving back. About being the ‘anti-chain chain.’”
Cambridge Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen questioned how &pizza; would affect future economics of the Square.
“Folks here really just want to see a vibrant Square,” Mazen said. “If you change the character of the Square too much, you won’t be a beneficiary of the Square’s success.”
Another meeting has been scheduled for April 19 for continued discussion with Lastoria before &pizza;’s plans continue in the zoning review process.
–Staff writer Alison W. Steinbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.
—Staff writer Katherine E. Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katiewang29.