East Cambridge Balances Growth, Stability

Residents Say Rapid Business Expansion Draws Attention to Preserving Neighborhood Feeling

Inside the former American Twine Building, just one block away from the CambridgeSide Galleria in East Cambridge, a group of young computer pros are busy conducting business over the Internet.

NetMarket, a company that helps businesses distribute information and purchase goods over the Internet, moved to East Cambridge last November and located its new state of the art offices inside an abandoned factory building on Second Street.

"We plan to be here a long time," says Daniel M. Kohn, 22, the chief executive officer of NetMarket. "We're just concerned this building won't be big enough for us in a couple years."

From his office window, Kohn can see the headquarters of two main competitors--Lotus and Pilot Software.

"There's a hugely growing concentration of computer and biotech firms here [in East Cambridge]," he says. "This is the premier location in the country."


In a neighborhood barber shop on Cambridge Street, three blocks away from the city's nucleus of technological development, two longtime East Cambridge residents express ambivalence about the influx of new businesses and upscale developments.

Nick Geraigery, 81, and Rocky A. Collazzo, 78, who gather at the Courthouse Barber Shop "every day," say they feel a tension between newcomers to the area and life-long residents.

"What you've got moving here are the Yuppies," says Geraigery, a retired MIT maintenance employee. "They're all in their own little world. They look down on the neighborhood people."

John A. Maddalo, the shop's owner, nods his head as he listens to Geraigery and Collazzo discuss the local politics of their neighborhood.

"This is still a working-class, family neighborhood," says Maddalo, whose family has operated the tiny barber shop across the street from the Middlesex County Court-house since 1945. "It's beginning to change, though."

'The Detroit of the East'

Until the mid-1960s, East Cambridge was sustained by an abundance of factory jobs that pumped millions of dollars into the local economy, says Erika S. Bruner, assistant director of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

"East Cambridge is the main reason this city was called ' the Detroit of the East,"' Bruner says.

The area is home primarily to Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and Portuguese-Americans. Immigrants were attracted by the abundance of high paying factory jobs, Bruner says.

"We probably have the largest Portuguese community in the country," says Jose D. Freitas, who immigrated from Portugal in 1946.