12.10.2005

Will the real Harvard Square please stand up?

I just spotted this item on Boston.com (via Steve LeBlanc of Associated Press), about the erosion of that luvable raggamuffin intellectual space that is Harvard Square and environs. Lots of old tales about Wordsworth, The Tasty, and Wursthaus. How the Square is changing. More commercial. It's not like it used to be.

Not again! Another death-of-the-square piece, like we've been seeing for the past 30 years. Quirky stores pushed out in favor of high-priced chain stores and real estate developers. Shock! Horror! What's to be done?

I hate to break it to you, Steve, but the food at the Wursthaus was good comfort food on a slushy winter's day, but iffy in any other season. The Tasty? The last time I went to the Tasty, the sarcastic hippy manning the grill admitted that the it was "shitty Campbell's chili from a can." Wordsworth was great, yeah, but the Coop was (and still is) better in terms of selection.

And you know what? A lot of those shiny commercial chain stores that everyone loves to hate have had a tough time, too. Chili's, Sunglasses Hut, Abercrombie and Fitch have all come and gone in the last two or three years, but no one sheds a tear. Meanwhile, there are a dozen new restaurants and cheap eats places in the Square that didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago, and I am thankful for them, not to mention the little boutiques and second-hand CD stores that seem to appear on every side street.

Yes, I mourn Cafe Aventura. Skewers. The Globe Corner Bookstore. The Janus Theatre. And I am sure somebody laments the passing of their chain-store, corporate neighbors -- Souper Salad, Compusmith, and the BayBank on Mass Ave. There may be a few old timers who recall the real Harvard Square -- the "Gold Coast" on Mount Auburn Street, inhabited by the sons of the American aristocracy, or the fetid train yards on the banks of a swampy Charles River. But that's the nature of the Square. Lots of churn, the old giving way to the new, the quirky and the cool standing next to the pricey and predictable.

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