Goodbye Pit, Hello Homeopathy

Well, thank God. I thought I was going to have to walk all the way to the other end of Church Street for all my homeopathic care needs. But now that there are no fewer than two body shops within one short block of each other, we can all breathe a little bit easier.

A few weeks ago, construction workers scraped the words "Reading International" off the storefront at the corner of Brattle and Church streets Another hoisted a placard above the door: Homeopathic Care would soon be available right here, at the other end of Church Street.

The last traces of one of Cambridge's most lauded bookstores, one which celebrated local authors and subscribed to periodicals you couldn't find even at Out of Town News, had finally been obliterated.

It's a good thing, too. There are just too many bookstores in Harvard Square as it is. You'd think people around here wanted to read or something. But as the latest trend in local business indicates, we Harvard Squares would take bath beads and pumice over some boring old book any day.

It hasn't happened yet, but we can dream, can't we? Sleek hardwood floors. Open, airy space. Bottles of pretty liquids set charmingly against soothing, light wood shelves. You can almost smell the construct-your-own-scent counter from the street. For all appearances, this new boutique is to be a sandbox for the stressed yuppie.

Oh, do we need more places like that.

First, a dilemma. How will we homeopathic nuts choose which store to frequent? The case with which one can feel at home in any boutique like that in the Square--most of them lining the increasingly chic lower Brattle Street area--is not unlike the comfort one feels when entering a McDonald's in a foreign land. Here is a new kind of home, a place where everything produces, a warm deja vu, a place where there is no worry the background music of Yanni can't cure.

And if every hypertrendy boutique ends up looking the same and selling the same products, we should be thankful. Less diversity in the Square means less stress for the rest of us. Where to shop? Where to eat? Someday, it might not matter.

It's a trend we should celebrate. At the old Brigham's shop on Mass. Ave, you could get ice cream scoops in flavors like "chocolate" and "vanilla." And it all cost less than your average packet of bath beads.

No one in the world makes better "chocolate" than Brigham's--you can still get their deliriously perfect pints in the grocery store--but clearly it was time for the shop to go. Too useful. Too in tune with the needs of students. In its place stands a university office building, and C'est Bon, which does a great job with French pastries and sandwiches, but just can't seem to get a grilled cheese right.

We should have seen it coming, after all. Though Harvard Square constitutes only a few blocks in the city of Cambridge, it has its own neighborhoods. Oona's would do well to avoid lower Brattle, and no one in their right mind would put a Structure or a Motto over by the Pit.

The Body Shop, the homeopathic anchor of the east end of Church Street, was a little out of its element geographically. With the Army/Navy Store and the Store 24 as neighbors, the 'Shop's slight trendiness stuck out a bit. But its active position in favor of animal rights made it welcome on this punky frontier, and it stayed.

But while the Body Shop's alternativity is appreciated in the Square, real-life grunge is not. There used to be a gas station in Harvard Square. A gas station. But people on tour buses and M.F.A. fellowships don't need to get gas. And they certainly don't want to see some greasy filling station obliterating their view of Lamont.

So instead we get the Harvard Inn, a redbrick box which masquerades, as so much of the new Square does, as old Harvard. Those Cantabrigians who need gas can go elsewhere; what we really need in these parts is a cozy, intimate Inn.

From what some people are saying, the trend toward upscale homogeneity might mean the end of Harvard Square as we know it.