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Woolworth Closing Marks End Of an Era

By Abby Y. Fung, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Bringing to a close a time of inexpensive housewares, neighborly bonhomie and institutional familiarity, the Woolworth store on 633 Mass Ave. on Saturday closed its doors for the last time.

Cantabrigians who recalled getting everyday necessities and odd little knick-knacks from the old-fashioned five-and-dime store since it opened there in the 1920's lamented the demise of Woolworth, and with it the passing of an era.

For city residents who loved the stores of Main Street USA, the closing of Woolworth signified more than the demise of a single institution. It appeared to be part of a greater trend in Central Square in which the old must give way to the new.

Right now, dozens of old businesses are in danger of being pushed out a multi-million dollar developments.

"I think it would be a shame to rob Central Square of its individuality, and I think an eight or 10-story building is too big for that space," said Cambridge City Councillor Kathleen L. Born. "Now that Harvard Square is on its way to becoming a mall, Central Square is coming into its own as the heart of Cambridge, and it would be a shame to ruin the neighborhood feeling that it has."

End of an Era

Woolworth brought a lot of people to the Square for shoping," Savidara Levine, Co-owner of Central Square Florist on 653 Mass Ave., which has been owned by her husband's family since 1929, said. "But every thing changes."

Levine recalled seeing birds and fish amidst the burgeoning shelves of Woolworth or grabbing a quick bite to eat at the sit-down lunch counter, which closed in 1982.

"They used to sell birds, but I never got one," she said. "But you know what I did get? Goldfish."

"We'd make flower arrangements attached to take-out cartons with goldfish," Levine recalled.

In the end, a quaint American retailer that became a fixture in most traditional down-town strips gave way to efficient convenience chains like Wal-Mart or Target, offering only the bare necessities of everyday life.

This July, the Woolworth Corp. announced the foreclosure of its 400 nationwide stores after 117 years of business.

Woolworth was founded in 1879 by Frank Woolworth, who opened the Great 5 Cents Store in Utica, N.Y.

That same year, a larger store--the first traditional Woolworth--opened for business in Lancaster, Pa.

The former manager of the Cambridge Woolworth, a middle-aged man who preferred not to give his name, said the store will be converted to a Foot Locker by late November.

Levine said she believes the shoe store will attract "a younger more affluent clientele to Central Square."

Certainly, Hedy, a senior citizen who works at the CVS drug store across the street from the Central Square Woolworth, said she had no plans to buy any Nike Air Jordans.

Despite working at CVS, Hedy--who offered only her first name--said she would frequently pop across the street to buy "little things that she needed" or to eat "whatever I felt like at the lunch counter."

"I'm certainly going to miss it," she said.

Woolworth was bustling with activity only a week ago. But now it is just 16,000 square feet of empty space, covered by men from a construction crew and little else. The last time Woolworth was remodeled was in 1954, the former store manager said.

The only remaining vestiges of the bygone Woolworth dynasty are a few red shopping baskets at the store's entrance and a sign on the floor which announced the store's hours.

An elderly woman wearing a pastel, flower-print scarf stopped to stare into Woolworth on a busy Monday afternoon and then shook her head sadly and walked away when she realized it was closed.

Joanna, an employee at TAD Incorporated Temporary Contract Services on 639 Mass Ave. who didn't want her last name to be printed, said she used to buy "the things you put on the bottom of chairs to prevent their legs from scratching up the floor" at Woolworth.

She also bought Christmas decorations and "those pumpkin lights you get for Halloween" there.

"I'm gonna miss it," Joanne said, in between puffs of a cigarette. "But I guess I'm gonna save my money now--get some sneakers."

Part of Woolworth's charm lay in its eclectic merchandise, which were often so small and obscure that even customers had no idea how to ask for the things they sought.

David A. Hoicka, a Central Square resident who is now a spokesperson for Save Central Square, an activist group supporting the survival of the area's older businesses, said he got "special hangers for his pants there."

"They have really wide ones which are exactly the right width to hang my pants on without getting a crease in them," he said.

Filling the Niche

Woolworth is now a distant memory, and customers will have to do without some of their more unusual goods.

Maxi's 99-cent store on 589 Mass Ave. hopes to fill the niche left by Woolworth.

"I'm going to try to fill that need now," Maxi's store manager, Tony Durant, 36, said. "But at a lower price."

Durant said his customers often complained about the high prices at Woolworth, located halfway down the block.

"A lot of people used to complain that it was a little higher-priced than they could afford," he said.

Durant believed this was the main reason for Woolworth's demise.

"I think it's the pricing and [the fact] that they have to pay the big executives," he said. "We don't have these problems. We carry basic items. It's stuff anyone could use."

Nevertheless, Durant, a Central Square resident and an almost-lifelong Cantabrigian who bought buttons and big, plastic storage bins with his family from Woolworth, expressed sadness over the loss of a long-time and much-beloved neighbor.

"It hurts the community to a point," he said. "Woolworth carried the little things that other people didn't."

A Changing Square

Holmes Realty Trust, a Newton, Mass., real-estate company, plans to bring a $20-million-dollar retail mall, apartment complex and parking garage to Mass Ave. To do so, it will raze 12 stores and displace 11 other businesses currently located there, according to store owners.

Some of the stores have been there for as long as 80 years, they say.

According to the Boston Phoenix, the new complex will house such tenants as Barnes & Noble and The Gap.

A Starbucks is also going up across the street on the corner of Mass Ave. and Prospect Street, replacing the Harvard Do-nut Shop which used to be housed there.

It is being developed by Jerome Dangel Developers, also of Newton, which is refurbishing other stores--including Central Square Florists--on that side of the street.

Conflicting Views

Hoicka, a spokesperson for Save Central Square, said the Trust sent out eviction notices a few days ago, notifying businesses of impending demolition in January or February.

His group is frantically trying to put a halt to such renovation plans. At the Cambridge Historical Commission meeting last May, Save the Square members protested the demolition of certain buildings they believed to have historic value.

If a building were built more than 50 years ago, the commission must issue a permit before it can be demolished, Liza Malenfant Paden, assistant land use planner of the Cambridge Development Department, said.

Three businesses fit this category: Emily Rose women's clothing has stood there for 58 years, Irving's Shoes for 75 and Surman's Men's Wear for 80, according to a press release sent out by Save Central Square.

Furthermore, Hoicka said, the CVS Drugstore located on Mass Ave. has a marble fecade with ornate detail that near by residents wished to preserve.

According to the Boston Phoenix, Holmes Realty Trust has already offered retail space in the new complex to all of the longtime tenants, as well as to Wiener's Discount Tobacco Dealer and the Ethiopian Restaurant on Mass. Ave.

But unless the company's development plans fall through, the majority of the other stores here will be displaced.

Cambridge Historic Commission Director Charles M. Sullivan said he supported the impending demolition as "a natural progression of change" because "the stores were no longer serving the communities around it."

"People who live in Central Square miss the chance of going to shopping malls and having a selection of clothing," he said. "The present retail mix is quite limited, and it's not a healthy neighborhood shopping area."

Hoicka disagreed, saying the demolition will only limit residents' freedom and access. "There are a lot of senior citizens who shop at the clothing stores there because it's inexpensive and you don't need a car to get there," he said.

Hoicka hopes to get his preservationist stance across at a Cambridge Historic Commission meeting tomorrow, a Cambridge Planning Board meeting on Nov. 18 and a Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals meeting at a date yet to be determined, all hurdles the Trust must overcome before it can begin construction.

Durant, the manager of Maxi's 99-cent store, said he believes the construction will not only raze buildings but demolish morale as well. Durant said the changes will make minorities feel unwelcome in Central Square.

"It's going to hurt minorities," Durant, who is black, said. "We're not going to be able to shop in Central Square anymore. It's becoming like Harvard Square or Newbury Street."

Brain C. Sullivan, manager of Pearl Art & Craft Supply on 579 Mass. Ave., said he can see both sides of the issue.

"Professionally speaking, I think the Square needs a shot in the arm," he said. "What folks call diverse and unique just means it's run-down. The Square looks like crap."

"[But] personally; it's sad that it took corporate money to do all that," Sullivan added.

The Business Owners

T.C., a young Asian-American woman whose family has owned the Golden Donut Restaurant on 638 Mass. Ave. for six years said she cares little for political debate.

What she is concerned about is making a living.

"This is our livelihood, so it's difficult for us and all of the storeowners," T.C. said. "We have nowhere else to go."

T.C., who declined to give her full name, said she doesn't know where her customers will eat and hang out once the restaurant shuts down.

The Golden Donut is a place where you can linger over a fatty breakfast of sausage, eggs and toast or have a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich cooked to order.

"We have regulars," T.C. said. "I don't know what they're going to do when we leave."

On a recent Monday afternoon, senior citizens and middle-aged Central Square employees thronged the Golden Donut to get a cup of iced coffee "with five [spoonfuls of] sugar and no cream" or "two glazed donuts."

T.C. said her family hasn't been asked to relocate to the new building because the Trust "doesn't want food establishments in the new complex."

However, Hoicka said he had heard the Ethiopian Restaurant would be allowed to join the new establishment if it agreed to convert into a "small sandwich shop."

Hoicka styled the fight between Central Square business owners and Holmes Realty Trust as a battle between "David and Goliath."

He has already collected 1,500 signatures and hopes to raise money at a Nov. 5 fundraiser at the Middle East Restaurant in Central Square.

However, there are some who believe that such efforts may come too little, too late.

"What can we do?" T.C. asked plaintively. "We can't fight $20 million dollars."CrimsonAmanda C. DavisJUST A MEMORY: The shelves at Woolworth in Central Square are empty. A shoe store is ready to move into the space.

End of an Era

Woolworth brought a lot of people to the Square for shoping," Savidara Levine, Co-owner of Central Square Florist on 653 Mass Ave., which has been owned by her husband's family since 1929, said. "But every thing changes."

Levine recalled seeing birds and fish amidst the burgeoning shelves of Woolworth or grabbing a quick bite to eat at the sit-down lunch counter, which closed in 1982.

"They used to sell birds, but I never got one," she said. "But you know what I did get? Goldfish."

"We'd make flower arrangements attached to take-out cartons with goldfish," Levine recalled.

In the end, a quaint American retailer that became a fixture in most traditional down-town strips gave way to efficient convenience chains like Wal-Mart or Target, offering only the bare necessities of everyday life.

This July, the Woolworth Corp. announced the foreclosure of its 400 nationwide stores after 117 years of business.

Woolworth was founded in 1879 by Frank Woolworth, who opened the Great 5 Cents Store in Utica, N.Y.

That same year, a larger store--the first traditional Woolworth--opened for business in Lancaster, Pa.

The former manager of the Cambridge Woolworth, a middle-aged man who preferred not to give his name, said the store will be converted to a Foot Locker by late November.

Levine said she believes the shoe store will attract "a younger more affluent clientele to Central Square."

Certainly, Hedy, a senior citizen who works at the CVS drug store across the street from the Central Square Woolworth, said she had no plans to buy any Nike Air Jordans.

Despite working at CVS, Hedy--who offered only her first name--said she would frequently pop across the street to buy "little things that she needed" or to eat "whatever I felt like at the lunch counter."

"I'm certainly going to miss it," she said.

Woolworth was bustling with activity only a week ago. But now it is just 16,000 square feet of empty space, covered by men from a construction crew and little else. The last time Woolworth was remodeled was in 1954, the former store manager said.

The only remaining vestiges of the bygone Woolworth dynasty are a few red shopping baskets at the store's entrance and a sign on the floor which announced the store's hours.

An elderly woman wearing a pastel, flower-print scarf stopped to stare into Woolworth on a busy Monday afternoon and then shook her head sadly and walked away when she realized it was closed.

Joanna, an employee at TAD Incorporated Temporary Contract Services on 639 Mass Ave. who didn't want her last name to be printed, said she used to buy "the things you put on the bottom of chairs to prevent their legs from scratching up the floor" at Woolworth.

She also bought Christmas decorations and "those pumpkin lights you get for Halloween" there.

"I'm gonna miss it," Joanne said, in between puffs of a cigarette. "But I guess I'm gonna save my money now--get some sneakers."

Part of Woolworth's charm lay in its eclectic merchandise, which were often so small and obscure that even customers had no idea how to ask for the things they sought.

David A. Hoicka, a Central Square resident who is now a spokesperson for Save Central Square, an activist group supporting the survival of the area's older businesses, said he got "special hangers for his pants there."

"They have really wide ones which are exactly the right width to hang my pants on without getting a crease in them," he said.

Filling the Niche

Woolworth is now a distant memory, and customers will have to do without some of their more unusual goods.

Maxi's 99-cent store on 589 Mass Ave. hopes to fill the niche left by Woolworth.

"I'm going to try to fill that need now," Maxi's store manager, Tony Durant, 36, said. "But at a lower price."

Durant said his customers often complained about the high prices at Woolworth, located halfway down the block.

"A lot of people used to complain that it was a little higher-priced than they could afford," he said.

Durant believed this was the main reason for Woolworth's demise.

"I think it's the pricing and [the fact] that they have to pay the big executives," he said. "We don't have these problems. We carry basic items. It's stuff anyone could use."

Nevertheless, Durant, a Central Square resident and an almost-lifelong Cantabrigian who bought buttons and big, plastic storage bins with his family from Woolworth, expressed sadness over the loss of a long-time and much-beloved neighbor.

"It hurts the community to a point," he said. "Woolworth carried the little things that other people didn't."

A Changing Square

Holmes Realty Trust, a Newton, Mass., real-estate company, plans to bring a $20-million-dollar retail mall, apartment complex and parking garage to Mass Ave. To do so, it will raze 12 stores and displace 11 other businesses currently located there, according to store owners.

Some of the stores have been there for as long as 80 years, they say.

According to the Boston Phoenix, the new complex will house such tenants as Barnes & Noble and The Gap.

A Starbucks is also going up across the street on the corner of Mass Ave. and Prospect Street, replacing the Harvard Do-nut Shop which used to be housed there.

It is being developed by Jerome Dangel Developers, also of Newton, which is refurbishing other stores--including Central Square Florists--on that side of the street.

Conflicting Views

Hoicka, a spokesperson for Save Central Square, said the Trust sent out eviction notices a few days ago, notifying businesses of impending demolition in January or February.

His group is frantically trying to put a halt to such renovation plans. At the Cambridge Historical Commission meeting last May, Save the Square members protested the demolition of certain buildings they believed to have historic value.

If a building were built more than 50 years ago, the commission must issue a permit before it can be demolished, Liza Malenfant Paden, assistant land use planner of the Cambridge Development Department, said.

Three businesses fit this category: Emily Rose women's clothing has stood there for 58 years, Irving's Shoes for 75 and Surman's Men's Wear for 80, according to a press release sent out by Save Central Square.

Furthermore, Hoicka said, the CVS Drugstore located on Mass Ave. has a marble fecade with ornate detail that near by residents wished to preserve.

According to the Boston Phoenix, Holmes Realty Trust has already offered retail space in the new complex to all of the longtime tenants, as well as to Wiener's Discount Tobacco Dealer and the Ethiopian Restaurant on Mass. Ave.

But unless the company's development plans fall through, the majority of the other stores here will be displaced.

Cambridge Historic Commission Director Charles M. Sullivan said he supported the impending demolition as "a natural progression of change" because "the stores were no longer serving the communities around it."

"People who live in Central Square miss the chance of going to shopping malls and having a selection of clothing," he said. "The present retail mix is quite limited, and it's not a healthy neighborhood shopping area."

Hoicka disagreed, saying the demolition will only limit residents' freedom and access. "There are a lot of senior citizens who shop at the clothing stores there because it's inexpensive and you don't need a car to get there," he said.

Hoicka hopes to get his preservationist stance across at a Cambridge Historic Commission meeting tomorrow, a Cambridge Planning Board meeting on Nov. 18 and a Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals meeting at a date yet to be determined, all hurdles the Trust must overcome before it can begin construction.

Durant, the manager of Maxi's 99-cent store, said he believes the construction will not only raze buildings but demolish morale as well. Durant said the changes will make minorities feel unwelcome in Central Square.

"It's going to hurt minorities," Durant, who is black, said. "We're not going to be able to shop in Central Square anymore. It's becoming like Harvard Square or Newbury Street."

Brain C. Sullivan, manager of Pearl Art & Craft Supply on 579 Mass. Ave., said he can see both sides of the issue.

"Professionally speaking, I think the Square needs a shot in the arm," he said. "What folks call diverse and unique just means it's run-down. The Square looks like crap."

"[But] personally; it's sad that it took corporate money to do all that," Sullivan added.

The Business Owners

T.C., a young Asian-American woman whose family has owned the Golden Donut Restaurant on 638 Mass. Ave. for six years said she cares little for political debate.

What she is concerned about is making a living.

"This is our livelihood, so it's difficult for us and all of the storeowners," T.C. said. "We have nowhere else to go."

T.C., who declined to give her full name, said she doesn't know where her customers will eat and hang out once the restaurant shuts down.

The Golden Donut is a place where you can linger over a fatty breakfast of sausage, eggs and toast or have a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich cooked to order.

"We have regulars," T.C. said. "I don't know what they're going to do when we leave."

On a recent Monday afternoon, senior citizens and middle-aged Central Square employees thronged the Golden Donut to get a cup of iced coffee "with five [spoonfuls of] sugar and no cream" or "two glazed donuts."

T.C. said her family hasn't been asked to relocate to the new building because the Trust "doesn't want food establishments in the new complex."

However, Hoicka said he had heard the Ethiopian Restaurant would be allowed to join the new establishment if it agreed to convert into a "small sandwich shop."

Hoicka styled the fight between Central Square business owners and Holmes Realty Trust as a battle between "David and Goliath."

He has already collected 1,500 signatures and hopes to raise money at a Nov. 5 fundraiser at the Middle East Restaurant in Central Square.

However, there are some who believe that such efforts may come too little, too late.

"What can we do?" T.C. asked plaintively. "We can't fight $20 million dollars."CrimsonAmanda C. DavisJUST A MEMORY: The shelves at Woolworth in Central Square are empty. A shoe store is ready to move into the space.

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