Matthew Robare writes in the New Urbanism column at The American Conservative:
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Harvard Square has a problem: it’s rapidly becoming an outdoor shopping mall thanks to high property values. Rents are so high that only high-end businesses or chains can afford the rent. Local hipsters’ despair of its authenticity. Many of the bookstores which once called the Square home have closed or had to move due to rising rents, and independent cafes and clothing stores are following suit. In the summer of 2018. Ivy-style mainstay
J.Press closed its Harvard Square store, which had been around for 86 years. The space remains empty.
Long-term vacancy seems more common even than being replaced by some luxury retailer or chain fast-casual restaurant.
Every closure brings with it a usual array of tweets and letters to the editor and articles about how the Square is changing for the worse.
This being Cambridge, the writers frequently blather on about capitalism, globalization, and neoliberalism, usually in a way to indicate that those words don’t refer to concepts but thought-terminating clichés. After all, the closed businesses and local landlords were just as motivated by profit as the new ones.( same crowd that was poisoning letters to the editor pages back when I lived there in the 60’s) Banks or empty storefronts were just previous layers of shopping mall transformation, such as the Urban Outfitters that used to be on Brattle Street.
One day there will be another recession, property values will get wiped, and more enterprising or less risk-averse people will start all over again. Until then, Harvard Square will suffer more decline, instead of Cambridge residents enjoying what should be one of America’s most important urban precincts.
Matthew Robare is a freelance journalist living in Boston.
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Last year, J. Press closed its Harvard Square store on Mt. Auburn Street after 86 years.