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Smith Center Construction Takes a Toll on Local Businesses

Scaffolding, fences, and trailers surround the Smith Campus Center, located at 1350 Massachusetts Ave. Construction on the building is expected to last until 2018.
Scaffolding, fences, and trailers surround the Smith Campus Center, located at 1350 Massachusetts Ave. Construction on the building is expected to last until 2018. By Derek G. Xiao
By Madeleine R. Nakada and Alison W. Steinbach, Crimson Staff Writers

After more than a year of renovations to the Smith Campus Center, a mixture of closed roads, pervasive dust, and the constant din of construction has posed challenges to neighboring businesses—even prompting a recently-closed locale to sue Harvard.

The renovations, which began in early 2016 and are scheduled to finish in 2018, have caused road closures and disruptions on both neighboring streets, Dunster and Holyoke. In addition to the businesses forced to move or close at the start of the project to allow for the renovations—including Al’s Harvard Square Cafe, Clover Food Lab, and b.good—remaining business have faced their own hurdles.

Several business owners in the area complain that the project has discouraged customers from visiting their stores.

En Boca, a Mediterranean-inspired tapas restaurant on Holyoke St., closed its doors on June 3, just eight months after opening due to the construction. In late August, Classic Restaurant Concepts, the corporation behind En Boca, filed a lawsuit against Harvard for “breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, nuisance” and other violations related to the renovation process.

A sign posted on the restaurant’s door since its closure blames construction for the sudden close.

“Unfortunately, despite the glowing reviews, press accolades and customers who made us their new favorite restaurant, we were plagued by the ongoing construction on the street,” the sign reads. “There was no end in sight. Closing was the only viable option.”

Other businesses, including Oggi Gourmet—which is located inside the Smith Center on the Mount Auburn St. side and has remained open during renovations—and the Andover Shop on Holyoke St. have also faced significant drops in business.

Lawrence D. Mahoney, a long-time salesman at the Andover Shop, a formalwear shop on Holyoke St., said the drop in foot traffic has been a problem for sales. He said that in addition to contacting the mitigation office with complaints, he has also offered up solutions, all of which have “fallen on deaf ears.”

“The mitigation office has done an atrocious job of mitigating,” Mahoney said. “I call and I get a very limp response that they’re going to do something. I mean their job is to be proactive and to act on the behalf of the aggrieved and all of the businesses have been aggrieved by this construction project.”

Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that construction has certainly been challenging for neighboring businesses.

“As we expected all along, it certainly has an impact,” Jillson said. “But this is a project that needed to be done and almost all of our members on Dunster St. and Holyoke St. knew in advance how challenging it would be and I believe they were prepared for that.”

Still, En Boca’s lawsuit charges that Harvard was not transparent in presenting the scope of the project. Although the University was clear from the outset that construction would continue through 2018, the lawsuit claims the University did not inform Classic Restaurant Concepts the renovations would include the closure of Holyoke St. until one month after their lease was signed.

“Harvard encouraged this investment all the while omitting to disclose this fundamental and material fact,” the lawsuit reads. “At no time prior to executing the lease did Harvard disclose to Classic Restaurant Concepts that Holyoke Street would be closed for any period of time or that it could be used as a staging area for the renovation of the Smith Center,” it later reads.

A Harvard spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing University policy.

Jillson credited Harvard with providing a mitigation officer at the start of the Smith Center project to deal with potential issues. She said her organization has called the officer several times on behalf of its member business such as Mike’s Pastry, the Hourly Oyster House, Oggi, and the Andover Shop.

“Despite the noise and the interruptions and the road closures and all of the vehicles and the difficulty with parking, the mitigation officer has been incredibly attentive and responsive, and for that we’re really grateful,” Jillson said.

Once reopened, the first two floors of the Smith Campus Center will be open to the public and will include food options.

–Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at

–Staff writer Alison W. Steinbach can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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