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When the clubs, cameras and street performers get to be too much, Union Square will suddenly seem attractive for the very reason why it's often overlooked.
"It has not undergone the gentrification of Boston and Cambridge," explains Joellen Masters, a resident for the past ten years. "It still seems very real."
Union Square may not call to the compulsive shopper or the museum fanatic or the all-night nightlifer. It calls, rather, to an exclusive audience, the people weary of high school rebels and jugglers and academics. It calls to those in search of the real.
Take Bus 86 to step out into the neighborhood's sprinkling of ethnic stores: A Haitian Market called "Defilee;" an Italian bakery called "Roma's;" an Asian Market named "Reliable Market Inc.;"-- "the biggest Oriental store in New England," boasts store owner Jim Park. According to Park, most of the ethnic stores have sprung up recently, within the last five years. A customer agrees, calling it a "prosperous" and "growing" area.
The stores cater to the tastes of an ethnically diverse neighborhood. A 40 year resident said that the older groups, Italian and Irish, were once large but are now shrinking; St. Joseph's church, on the other hand, indicates the growing influence of another group--Portugese services are offered. There is also a "yuppie, progressive pocket," Masters says, "that stretches across these boundaries."
The area's most acclaimed restaurant is the The Elephant Walk, serving traditional French and Cambodian cuisine to an eclectic and nonnative crowd. Masters expresses anger at a comment she heard about the restaurant: "Finally there's a place to go in Union Square,"--a comment that demonstrates the gap between those who seek the cosmpolitan and those who are sick of it.
"I found that a very insulting and snobby comment," she said. She criticizes The Elephant Walk or being overpriced and crowded, and suggests the Star of India as a tasty--and less pretentious--alternative for dining out.
Towering over the Union Square rooftops is a stone monument that adds a sense of history to the area. A five-minute trek uphill brings you to the landmark which is also the highest point for miles around. The tower was built in 1903 to commemorate the spot where colonists once kept a lookout for the British. Now visitors go here to enjoy the spectacular view of Cambridge and Boston. On the fourth of July, the park surrounding the tower attracts a large crowd of spectators who hope to enjoy the fireworks display in the Harbor.
The roads branching out from the Square quickly become residential; these neighborhoods are home to many an off-campus or Harvard summer school student. It's also a nicer place than Cambridge for extremely practical reasons, according to a two-year resident: "It's quieter. I have a place to park my car."
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