Lost in the Blur of the Changing Square

This year’s graduating seniors will be the last class to have known The Tasty, a diner that served up greasy and beloved burgers for most of the 20th century at the current site of Abercrombie & Fitch; the class of 2004, now first-years, will be able to say when they graduate that they were the last to know Square staple Store24, which will be replaced at the end of the month by a cellular telephone store.

Are we looking at a new Square?

Harvard Square has been prime real estate for longer than the United States has been a country, but in recent years rents have spiraled so drastically as to threaten a profound change to the landscape.

Turnover is nothing new in the Square. Some businesses thrive, and some fail, here as everywhere. Over the last decade, however, rents have become so high that few local businesses can afford to risk setting up shop, leaving national franchises with vast margins to up the slack.

“I’ve been hanging out in the Square since I was a little kid, and I’ve seen it pass through many phases,” says Christian R. Lorentzen ’99, whose father owns a small trucking business in western Mass. “The new trend seems to be national chains. For them the risk is small in the big picture, but if a small business fails, you lose everything.”


Square residents are of varied minds on recent events, but everyone agrees on one point--something’s different about the Square.

Let Them Eat Phones

“The Square is becoming more tourist-y and less college-y,” says Phillip M. Chan ’02.

Chan is hardly alone in his feeling. The phrase “outdoor mall” has become a byword among small business owners and other Cantabridgians in the last few years.

“People around here have been joking that if you put a roof over JFK Street, you’d have a mall,” says Adam Dicenso, who has worked at Pinnochio’s Pizza for the last 12 years.

Like many others, Dicenso says he feels that the Square is losing much of the unique character that draws people to Harvard.

“I’ve been speaking to a lot of the people that come here, and it seems like they’re going out there,” Dicenso says, gesturing in the direction of Central and Porter Squares. “There’s a base of people who will stay—students, people who work here—but I think the weekend people are going that way because those places have what Harvard Square had—or is losing, I should say.”

And there is no denying that the corner of JFK and Mt. Auburn Streets boasts quite a view of the Square’s new facades—national chains rather than local businesses.

Standing there, one can see 7-Eleven, Staples, Pizzeria Uno, Peet’s Coffee, American Express Travel, the House of Blues, the Vitamin Shoppe, CVS, Abercrombie & Fitch, Pacific Sunwear, Sunglass Hut, Urban Outfitters, Tower Records, two different Breugger’s Bagels stores, and—just barely—the Harvard Coop (turned Barnes & Noble college superstore).

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