Before the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard Square was a center of activity, bustling with people shopping, eating, and admiring the historic buildings of Harvard’s campus. When the pandemic began, the Square took a hit — the stream of tourists slowed, and almost all students departed campus by March 15, 2020. Besides the loss of customers, non-essential businesses, such as salons, shut down to comply with state orders from the Massachusetts government. Now, a year after students initially departed from campus, the Square is still weathering the effects of the ongoing pandemic.
Previously, the area in front of Harvard’s Smith Campus Center served as a gathering space for local chess players. With the onset of Harvard’s coronavirus protocols, chess players deserted the built-in tables; now, a masked man reads a book alone.
A man stands outside Clover Food Lab on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Holyoke Street. Clover’s various locations are open for just delivery and takeout.
Pinocchio's Pizza & Subs continues to serve customers in Harvard Square, following more than 50 years of business. The restaurant is currently open for limited indoor seating during the day, but switches to a take-out only model after 9:30 p.m.
Despite the many changes the pandemic has brought, MBTA buses continue to navigate their routes through Harvard Square. The Harvard Square T Station also remains open, with all passengers required to wear face masks by federal and state law.
Although many Square businesses have faced significant challenges during the pandemic with maintaining a steady customer base, Felipe’s Taqueria has avoided any significant decrease in patronage. With the loosening of coronavirus restrictions in Massachusetts, Felipes allows for socially distanced indoor dining, along with outdoor dining.
Although students are not strolling through Harvard’s Science Center Plaza after class or on the way to eat with friends in Annenberg, a rotating cast of food trucks continues to operate in the outdoor common space. Students and other patrons can still order food from Plaza staples like Bon Me, Chicken & Rice Guys, and Zaaki.
The Harvard Book Store, open since 1932, has withstood the challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Other long-established businesses, like the Wellbridge Athletic Club and Dickson Bros, a decades-old hardware store, closed in 2020.
Border Cafe is another business in Harvard Square that will not reopen, officially announcing its permanent closure in 2021. The business suffered a fire in December 2019, and was unable to reopen after the economic challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic. Before the pandemic, Harvard students frequented this Square staple for Tex-Mex food and lively music. Café Pamplona, which opened in 1958, also closed.
Despite the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for many businesses, the Harvard Cooperative Society is currently completing renovations at its flagship Harvard Square store. One goal of the renovations is to improve the store’s capacity for social distancing, as businesses continue to navigate ways to operate safely.
Despite the wave of closures and challenges for local businesses, Source, a farm-to-table pizzeria, opened in Harvard Square towards the end of 2020. Source is not the only restaurant to open during the coronavirus pandemic; Spyce, a restaurant with an automated kitchen, opened a location in Harvard Square in 2021.
Harvard Square is a hub of local culture and history, supported by Cambridge residents and Harvard students alike. In March 2020, many businesses were not expecting the significant impact the pandemic would have on their shops. Businesses in the area withstood economic challenges, a sharp decrease in patrons, and many other unexpected challenges. As the impact of the pandemic carries on, the landscape of the Square is constantly changing and prioritizing safety, but slowly approaching its level of activity from before.