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Sic Transit Dunkin' Donuts

By Hugh P. Liebert

Some Harvard students sate their revolutionary ambitions with social justice rallies and ill-fated leafleting in Mass Hall. Others, however, commit remarkable passion and attention to unremarkable causes.

Most recently, unregenerate rabble-rousers have rushed to the defense of two endangered Mass Ave. establishments: The Bow and Arrow Pub and Dunkin' Donuts. Responding to their impending eviction by a perennially remodeling COOP, one student has sowed the seeds of a spirited grassroots campaign. Another has called for a campus-wide boycott of the COOP in the hope of bringing the cold-hearted corporate monster to its knees.

But these two are only the vanguard of an ever-broadening consensus: everyone, it seems, has kept harbored in their heart of hearts a secret crush for these hang-outs--until now. The evil forces of capitalism have conquered the beloved Tasty, vanquished the mythic Wursthaus and seem destined to continue their merciless route of all the aged and unique businesses that make the Square quirky (hence lovely). In the case of the Bow, the tears shed--or revolutions plotted--by fuzzy-hearted communitarians may be justified.

But when the same well-meaning leftists wax sentimental over Dunkin' Donuts--all under the banner of anti-commercialization, mind you--one finds it difficult to feel their pain. Let's be honest. Dunkin' Donuts, Inc. is a multi-million dollar corporation. The newly adored Mass Ave. franchise is but one of 5,000 in the US, which, all told, sell 1.5 million cups of coffee and almost 4.5 million donuts every day--this is a far cry from the corner grocery. As if that weren't enough, they don't pay all their employees a living wage and they've been known to use Styrofoam.

When the COOP threatens to oust Dunkin' Donuts, it's really just The Man fighting The Man. Consequently, it's difficult for thoughtful social justice types and compassionate conservatives to determine whether or not defending the lesser of the two evils is justified. Right-thinking leftists and conservatives alike are fond of well-established stores, but suspicious of soulless chains.

The dilemma they reach--whether to support an aged chain or an expanding corporation--touches a problem modern conservatives face frequently in the real world: Given that one should, generally speaking, preserve traditions, how long must something be around to qualify as a tradition? Jurists who stand by the original understanding of the constitution face the same difficulty when deciding precisely when stare decisis starts to apply. Most have recourse to judicial prudence: When a decision has become so embedded in everyday life that overturning it would cause chaos, the decision should stand, no matter how poor the ruling.

Most businesses that have been in the square for as long as Dunkin' Donuts (28 years) are deeply embedded in Harvard life. But closing Dunkin' Donuts will hardly cause chaos; in fact, the Square would be better off without it. Alumni still reminisce about late nights at the Tasty, and locals would surely remember the Bow if it left--will anyone really miss Dunkin' Donuts when it's gone?

Teary-eyed apologists seem to have overlooked what, to dispassionate observers, is a glaring fact: The place is a dump. The floor is filthy, the tables rickety, the ceiling water-stained, and the wallpaper blackened with decades of dirt. The owners, as many have noted, are quite cheery, but even the most radiant smiles could not cut through the store's grime.

Granted, most Dunkin' Donuts are no better, but patrons who fear the loss of their favorite full-bodied coffee need only walk a few blocks southward to find the flagship of the Dunkin' Donuts fleet. At the JFK Street Dunkin' Donuts (a.k.a. the "Eliot Street Caf"--the restaurant is so ashamed of its begrimed brethren it assumes a stately pseudonym), diners munch Crullers at marble tables adorned with bright carnations, surrounded by wood-paneled walls. So what if the marble, flowers and cherry are fake? The caf is clean and almost classy--it's the glam to Mass Ave.'s grunge.

Students should thank the COOP for cleansing Mass Ave. of this festering eyesore--its time has come. The immortal words of Bruce Springsteen, a songwriter of McCartneyian proportions who is purported to have made his Boston debut in the Bow, are appropriate: "Glory days, yeah they'll pass you by, glory days." In the case of the Bow, this is regrettable. But as for Dunkin' Donuts, I say: Good riddance.

Hugh P. Liebert '01 is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House.

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