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For Square Shops, Summer Tourists Fail to Offset Students’ Departures

Harvard Square
Harvard Square during the summer.
Life in the kitchen at Night Market moves at a slower clip during the summer months.

On a given night from the months of September to May, chef Jason Tom says the restaurant is usually “rocking out in the kitchen”—with a “go, go, go” pace in the back matching a dining room that can turn over three times some evenings.

Summertime, on the other hand, is "really chill,” according to Tom.

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“Since students are away, it’s really slowed down,” he said. “It makes you want to pull your hair out.”

Tom said that during the weekdays in the summer, Night Market will serve around 60 people, whereas during the height of the school year, the restaurant has seen up to 165.

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Night Market is not alone among Harvard Square businesses in seeing a summertime slowdown. Despite the annual increase of tourists during the summer months, local shop owners say the departure of College students for the summer is noticeable.

Inside Black Ink
Customers browse the shelves of Black Ink. Susan Corcoran, founder of the store, wrote in an email that tourists visit her business from all of the world during the summer months.
“Summer is for us—as we are not in the heart of Harvard Square—a really big slow season,” Nhon Ma, co-founder of Zinneken's, said. “But we do enough business to stay open, fortunately.”

Ma estimates traffic to the Belgian-themed bakery decreases 20 percent in the summer as compared to the school year. Zinneken’s also sees a decrease in deliveries, according to Ma.

“In the slow times, you’re just like, ‘Oh my god, can we just be busy for a hot second, so I can feel like we’re actually active and moving our bodies?” Tom said about the decrease in foot traffic.

Some business owners around the Square pointed out that tourists who flood the Square during the summer can sometimes offset some of the revenue declines during the summer months that result from having fewer students on campus.

Susan Corcoran, founder of Black Ink, wrote in an email Wednesday that as students leave for the summer, tourists “from all over the world” flock to the Square.

“It's a fun time to work on the sales floor as we hear many languages, interact with people discovering our city, and act as emissaries to the Square,” Corcoran wrote. “The many local festivals and programs hosted by the [Harvard Square Business Association] make for a very active street scene and weekends are particularly energizing.”

Tom's BaoBao
Customers enjoy some fresh hot bao from Tom's BaoBao.
Rosamond Lu, chief operating officer of Tom’s Bao Bao, recalled the restaurant's July 2016 opening as another example.

“We opened in the summer thinking that it would be a quiet period for us to really ease into operations,” Lu said.

Quickly though, the location became “very busy,” according to Lu.

She said the establishment continued to attract a steady stream of customers as students returned to campus in the fall.

“When the students arrived, we didn’t do a lot of marketing, so we didn’t see a huge increase when students returned in the fall,” Lu said. Currently, she said Tom’s Bao Bao was looking to expand its social media presence.

On the other hand, less conspicuous businesses like Night Market—tucked away in a basement location on Winthrop St.—rarely see tourists.

“I don’t think tourists are willing to look up or down or around. They see what’s at eye-level, and that’s it. And we’re both literally and figuratively underground,” Tom said.

Honey on a Mission
Sarah M. Winters, a Follow the Honey staff worker "bee", gives out free samples of honey and explains the company's humanitarian mission.
Mary Canning, founder of Follow the Honey, said that though tourists visit her store in the summer, much of the support her business has received has come from Harvard affiliates.

“We’ve managed to stay afloat outside of underwriting our existence as a small business by having the Harvard community there saying ,‘We want you to be here,’” Canning said. “We’ve done a ton of stuff with Harvard, so Harvard’s a huge ally.”

“Summers are rough,” Canning said. “But I don’t want to isolate it to what summers are like, because having a brick and mortar store is, in this day and era of Amazon, super challenging.”

—Staff writer Truelian Lee can be reached at truelian.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @truelian_lee.

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