The Defense (Fund) Never Rests Its Case

Sq. Group Fights for Mom-And-Pops

So they asked for public restrooms, and a tenant who would hire from within the community, run a clean operation and not detract from other business in the Square.

Starbucks Corp. met the bill, agreeing also to preserve the historic character of the building--the site of Cambridge's first jail.

But before the coffee could brew, Starbucks needed a special permit from the Cambridge Planning Board to operate as a fast-food restaurant.

The Defense Fund argued that Starbucks didn't adequately prove there was a "need" for Starbucks coffee that could justify granting an exception to the city ordinance restricting fast-food establishments.

To prove that point, the Defense Fund took a survey of area restaurants and found that there were already more than 1,000 seats for coffee lovers in the Square. It also hired a student to take photographs as evidence of coffee-shop crowding.


The city's Planning Board gave the go-ahead anyway, and the Fund filed an appeal. But the Defense Fund never got the chance to show its research in court. Starbucks motioned for summary judgment, and the case was dismissed for a lack of standing.

The Fund may appeal the ruling. In the meantime, Cahaly says he's happy with what Starbucks has brought to the community.

"What could be more Harvard Square than what's going on there now?" he asks. "I walk by in the morning and see people reading the newspaper, sipping coffee and working on their laptops."

If the city approves a project that the Defense Fund feels would threaten the Square, the Fund's 24-member board can file a suit in the Superior Court of Middlesex County, naming the developer as well as the members of the Planning Board as defendants.

But Gifford stresses that the group aims for cooperation and views legal measures as a last resort.

"It's not as if we're going around looking for people to sue," she says. "The public sees the appeals, the lawsuits. What they don't see is our participation in the hearings night after night. We don't just come in out of the blue after the decision."

In addition to its legal work, the Defense Fund holds annual meetings designed to educate the public on issues concerning the Square, publishes an annual newsletter, and concerns itself with "street-life" issues within the Square.

Vigilance is the price of maintaining the Square's traditional feel, Gifford says.

"I just don't want to see a Starbucks on every corner of every street," she says.

How It Began