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Since students wrapped up classes last semester, Harvard Square has said goodbye to Crema Cafe, Chipotle, Tealuxe, Urban Outfitters, Sweet Bakery, and Au Bon Pain. Students have lamented the departure of these stores, a development which follows a pattern of storefront turnover in the Harvard Square. Rising rents and competition are to blame in part, but the planned construction to the building, which houses Urban Outfitters, Tealuxe, and Sweet Bakery, is also critical in this new wave of closures.
It is unfortunate that stores we have grown to love in Harvard Square are closing. The increase in high-end stores will have an adverse effect on both students and the residents of Cambridge, as affordable options become increasingly scarce.
After all, the food situation in Harvard Square was already dire. Due to the lack of supermarkets in the area, the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies Harvard Square as a half-mile “low-access zone.” The University, city of Cambridge, and local developers should expand efforts to provide students and Cambridge residents access to low-cost options in Harvard Square. A potential approach, piloted by some U.S. cities, to this looming problem could be the introduction of new subsidies and tax relief programs to support businesses that offer affordable and healthy food options. Moreover, if this trend of closings continues, Harvard should consider offering more financial support to low-income students.
While consumer choice does play a role in which stores can stay and which are forced out, there are certainly other factors at play. Businesses choose what types of consumers to target. Unfortunately, an increasing number of Harvard Square businesses choose to cater to high-income individuals — whether they be students, tourists, or residents — ignoring the need for affordable food options.
To make matters worse, what little voice might typically be afforded to consumers by the power of their pocketbooks is not afforded to low-income students and Cambridge residents. Indeed, many of the stores being replaced, like Urban Outfitters and Sweet Bakery, were already pricey for many students and Cambridge residents. Two years ago, the same worry was present as Tatte replaced Panera Bread and as Pinkberry was melted down into Pressed Juicery. Stores being priced out of Harvard Square does not bode well for the affordability of future developments, as even higher-end options may replace them. In particular, residents have expressed concerns over the potential effects of a shopping center proposed by Regency Centers Corporation, which would encompass three historic buildings. If Cambridge does not heed these concerns, then residents would be left largely out of the conversation in these changes.
Like Cambridge residents, we’ve opined on this issue before. We continue to hope that Cambridge and Harvard begin to take more proactive note of the voices advocating for a more affordable Harvard Square.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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