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On April 8, throngs of people lined up outside of Pinkberry’s recently-opened clear glass doors to get a taste of the company’s frozen yogurt. New to Cambridge, the store had already begun drawing patrons the night before its official debut by giving away free samples.
Its arrival challenges Berryline’s monopoly on the frozen yogurt market. Now it is no longer the only store in the area that primarily sells the dessert option touted as healthier than ice cream.
While community members are excited about the new arrival, many are wondering if the local market can sustain two frozen yogurt stores.
THE BERRIES’ BEGINNINGS
Berryline was one of the first tart-yogurt shops in the entire state of Massachusetts, according to co-founder Matthew A. Wallace.
Since its inception, Berryline has prided itself on catering specifically to the Harvard Square market.
“We were both studying in the area,” says Wallace of the choice to open their first store on Arrow Street. Wallace was enrolled at MIT and the other founder, Pok “Eric” K. Yang, was at Harvard.
“As students, we were always hanging out here so we wanted our store to become part of the large student community here,” says Wallace.
“Many of the shops that are popular on the West Coast have that city-like, busy hub feel,” Yang adds. “[However], we wanted to be like your local coffee shop or local small business.”
Pinkberry, on the other hand, has cultivated its reputation worldwide. Its first store opened in West Hollywood, California in 2005 and it has since expanded to multiple locations all over the United States and internationally in countries including Canada, Bahrain, and Qatar. A 2007 “Fast Company” article once declared Pinkberry “the most famous” brand of yogurt within the United States.
Founded by restaurateur Shelly Hwang and architect Young Lee, Pinkberry has prided itself not only on the taste and variety of its yogurt but also its unique brand-name experience. The 2007 article reported that, as a result, Pinkberry has been careful in its expansion to select locations that appeal to its high-end image.
COMPETING FOR THE COMMUNITY
By providing buy-one-get-one deals for specific events, supporting various student groups, and speaking at different Harvard events, Berryline has actively engaged with the community since its arrival in Harvard Square in September 2007. In addition to established relationships with college students, Berryline has forged ties with other area businesses as well as local artists, whose pictures hang on the walls of the store.
“We always love making new connections with people in the area. Berryline is local, genuine and real, and we hope it shows in both our product and our customer service,” says General Manager of the Arrow Street Berryline Min-Young Hwang.
Given the company’s knowledge of the area, the business has never felt the need to advertise, according to Wallace.
The founders of the store can even be seen working there for at least a couple of hours every week.
“Berryline is a place where people know your name,” says Hwang.
New to Cambridge, Pinkberry’s mission focuses more on its nationally-acclaimed product, according to Vice President of Brand Marketing Suzanne Ginestro.
But Pinkberry has also tried to enhance its community presence in Harvard Square. Before opening its doors, the store established a connection with Her Campus, reached out to the student population, and forged ties with local businesses.
In the first few weeks of Pinkberry’s debut, the turnout remained high.
“The Harvard Square community has really embraced us and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of it,” says Ginestro.
Well located, at the entrance to the Harvard T stop, and secure in the quality of its unique brand, Pinkberry representatives say they are not worried about competition from Berryline.
“We do not like to think in terms of having an advantage or disadvantage compared to another company, we simply continuously strive to offer the best product and experience to our patrons,” says Ginestro.
Berryline’s owners echo these sentiments.
“We’re obviously curious to see if we’re going to take a hit because of the other frozen yogurt shop,” Wallace says, “But we’re keeping true to what we’ve always done—staying a part of the community and preserving that local feel.”
The presence of the two frozen yogurt chains has drawn the attention of the Harvard Square community and caused many students and Cambridge residents to passionately defend their preference.
Students say that taste, variety, and the general comfort level provided by the different stores are factors in determining whether they prefer Pinkberry or Berryline.
“The reason I like Pinkberry is because they’re open at 9 a.m. and they have a lot of options,” says Elizabeth C. Ahern ’12. “They’re a little cheaper because they give you more toppings, and they don’t charge per topping. They have better flavors than Berryline,” she adds.
Some students note that Pinkberry is more conveniently located.
“It’s a social place where people can hang out,” says Yen Chin “Christine” Chen ’14. “You can satisfy that midnight craving of froyo.”
But some students and residents are quick to defend the originality of Berryline.
“What I like about Berryline is the culture and the atmosphere. Berryline is a nicer, cuter, hole-in-the-wall place,” says Sabina Ceric ’12. “I don’t like the corporate-y feel of Pinkberry. I think what it’ll end up happening is Pinkberry will be very touristy and Berryline will still get a lot of college students.”
Grant M. Jones ’14, who serves as a student representative for Berryline, also notes that the store has done a lot of work to build a reputation within the Harvard community, which will keep customers loyal.
“It’s not just frozen yogurt,” Jones says. “Not only is the taste better by far—it’s the local feel, the community, and the people. It’s so much cozier and familiar than [Pinkberry] with [its] industrial feel. I just love the brand.”
The warm atmosphere that many Berryline devotees describe may stem from the store’s origins.
“We were students,” Wallace says, “We did things the way college students would do them. We bought Target furniture and stuck it in our store. We gave it that homey feel because we made it like we would make a dorm room.”
ROOM FOR TWO
Big corporate chains like Pinkberry are in the minority in Harvard Square. Almost 80 percent of Square businesses are locally owned, and another 5 percent have regional headquarters. By contrast, national and international shops comprise only about 15 percent.
According to Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, the distinct business styles of Pinkberry and Berryline are representative of the mesh of small independent shops and national chains that have long been thriving in the Square.
“Large nationals really have a good understanding of merchandising, advertising, and display that the smaller independents benefit from. By that, I mean, they can emulate them,” Jillson says.
On the other hand, Jillson attributed the ability of small independent businesses to make quick decisions as a “real advantage for them” in the changing economic environment. “They have the ability to grab a broom, go outside, arrange flower baskets, and make their storefronts very appealing. They don’t have to call corporate headquarters across the country,” she says.
Jillson suggests that the future of the sweet debate may not be all that bitter, as Harvard Square has seen a variety of similar businesses exist side-by-side for years.
“We have lots of perfect examples of coexistence,” Jillson says. Indeed, the Harvard Square area supports two—soon to be three—different Starbucks stores, in addition to a plethora of other locally-owned coffee shops.
For their own part, the frozen yogurt stores say they are content to share the market.
According to Ginestro, Pinkberry is “happy to coexist with other shops in the area.”
“Every shop is different and has served their own interpretation of frozen yogurt,” she says.
The Berryline founders agree.
“There’s room in the market for everybody,” says Wallace.
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