The Harvard Crimson

City Council Supports Local Real Estate Tax, Discusses Municipal Housing Vouchers

The Cambridge City Council voted to support a tax on large real estate transactions and discussed the feasibility of municipally-funded housing vouchers during a Monday evening meeting.

Councilors voted 6-2 to endorse keeping local option transfer fees a part of the state Affordable Homes Act, which is currently being reviewed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Under the current version of the AHA, Massachusetts municipalities would have the authority to impose a tax of between 0.5 and 2 percent on real estate transactions of more than $1 million, with revenues going to fund affordable housing projects.

Based on an estimate from the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, Middlesex County — in which Cambridge is located — could raise more than $131 million for each 1 percent tax on large real estate transactions.

Councilors expressed hope that the additional revenue resulting from the tax could help alleviate Cambridge’s longstanding affordable housing crisis.

But some local advocates urged the Council to reject the policy order, raising concerns over the additional cost to homeowners.

“The reality is that this is not a fee for municipalities. It is actually another fee for every homeowner in Cambridge whose property is valued over a million dollars,” Denise Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said during the Monday meeting.

“I urge you to consider what a local option transfer fee will mean to residential property owners in Cambridge,” Jillson added, “particularly those who are older and may be looking to downsize, those who are younger with families and need to upsize, and every home or condo owner who might be counting on their most valuable asset — their home — to maintain financial security and, for some, their independence.”

However, councilors stressed that the provision itself would not immediately impose the real estate tax in the city.

“It is really important, though, to note that this legislation does nothing to enact a tax of any kind or a fee of any kind in Cambridge,” said Councilor Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80.

“What it would allow is local control for municipalities across the state to decide whether to implement a transfer fee that reflects the reality of the markets within their own city,” Nolan added.

Jillson suggested the tax was unnecessary, citing numerous programs the city has implemented to support affordable housing development, and the relative abundance of affordable housing in Cambridge.

“These programs have resulted in 15 percent of the housing stock in Cambridge deemed affordable,” said Jillson. “While there are a few communities with higher percentages, it is important to note that the statewide average is 10 percent. Cambridge far exceeds that.”

Cambridge Residents Alliance President Lee Farris disputed the sentiment, pointing to the Envision Cambridge plan, the city’s blueprint for 2030.

“It says we’re trying to get to 20 percent income-restricted affordable housing in the city,” said Farris, referring to goals laid out in the Envision plan. “If some speakers don’t like that, they’re going against what the city has already said it wants to do.”

The Council also debated issuing municipally-funded housing vouchers in partnership with the Cambridge Housing Authority, ultimately referring it to the Council’s Housing Committee.

The CHA currently provides housing vouchers under the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, which pays for low-income residents to rent an apartment in the private market. City funding for housing vouchers would increase the number of Cambridge residents who receive this assistance.

“Voucher holders can have flexibility on what part of the city they want to live in,” Farris said. “While I certainly think we need to build more income-restricted affordable housing, vouchers are really important in preventing displacement of lower-income people in the short term, in a faster timeframe than is possible by building new affordable units.”

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The Harvard Crimson

Rachael Solem, Longtime Irving House Proprietor, Remembered for Her Impact on Local Businesses

Rachael Solem, a founding member of the Cambridge Local First business organization, was remembered by Cambridge residents and leaders for her commitment to the city’s small businesses and nonprofits.
Solem, who ran the bed-and-breakfast Irving House, had close ties to several other local business groups and a deep love for the serving the local Cambrdige community, according to people who knew her.
Beyond her entrepreneurial ventures, Solemn supported many local nonprofits, including the Community Servings, On the Rise, and Future Chefs, and shelters in Cambridge for women and families, including Renae’s Place, the Tanner Residence, and the Cambridge YWCA.
Solem died on January 15. She was 68.
“She had a big heart and a big brain, and we are really, really grieving her loss,” said Theodora M. Skeadas ’12, executive director of Cambridge Local First.
Solem was known for her ability to bring people together, according to her daughter Briana Pearson.
“She has so many different circles of people and communities that she built that it’s pretty impressive that everyone still felt so connected,” Pearson said in an interview.
Solem got her start in Harvard Square in 1990 when the establishment that is now Irving House was in poor condition and up for sale.
At the time, Solem had no experience in hospitality and learned all of the necessary skills on the job.
“The story goes, she’d never even stayed in a hotel before she bought a hotel,” Pearson said.
Solem built a devoted clientele by offering a comfortable, welcoming space for travelers to Harvard Square. She later purchased Turner House, which catered to short-term renters, and Harding House, a bed-and-breakfast similar to Irving House.
Pearson said that what her mother created in Harvard Square was unique, considering the landscape of national hotel brands that cater to high-spending travelers.
Harding House was known for its quirks, including the baked goods staff made for guests each morning, the typewriter in the parlor where guests could leave messages to each other, and the musicians who were invited to showcase their work in the building’s common spaces.
Solem additionally co-founded Cambridge Local First in 2005 as an advocacy organization. Solem was motivated by an influx of large corporations that challenged local businesses and a shift in consumer spending habits toward online retail.
The nonprofit organization now consists of 500 independent businesses in Cambridge and advocates for local commerce.
“Everybody loved working with Rachael. I stopped by the bed-and-breakfast very often to say hi to her and get a coffee,” Skeadas said. “It’s such a welcoming place. It’s a beautiful establishment, and she treated her staff with such care and such diligence.”
Despite her residences standing out for their distinct contributions, the Covid-19 pandemic threatened Solem and other proprietors across the hospitality industry.
Unable to keep three businesses running during the major slowdown in sales, Solem decided to close Harding House and focus her resources on Irving House to get through the pandemic.
In 2021, Solem stepped back from her role at Irving House, and Pearson took on the job of general manager. Solem continued her involvement with Irving House, fulfilling supervisory responsibilities at the location for the next few years.
Since Solem’s passing, Pearson is transitioning into a more prominent role at Irving House. She said that she aims to preserve what her mother has spent the past three decades building.
As she looks ahead toward maintaining the establishment her mother built while also exploring new avenues, Pearson said she sees challenges on the horizon. For instance, the rise of online booking platforms has cut margins for small hospitality businesses.
“It’s been a constant battle to help people understand that if you book directly with a small independent property, you’re helping put money back into the community,” Pearson said.
According to Pearson, the relationships Solem forged with her employees and customers were a key source of motivation, helping her persevere through the challenges of establishing and sustaining her hospitality business.
Skeadas believed that Solem’s compassionate nature made her exceptionally well-suited to her role as a supporter of local businesses.
“She’s a woman who was profoundly candid, thoughtful, clear-eyed, and deeply empathetic,” Skeadas said. “Those are really hard qualities to find. And the combination of all those things made her a very special person.”

Celebrating Harvard Square’s Newest Performance Space

ARVARD SQUARE’S newest performance venue, Arrow Street Arts (ASA), celebrates its official opening with a weeklong festival starting March 23. Featuring regional artists, organizations, and diverse genres, the event will showcase talents from the traditional to the avant-garde.

ASA is a combined black box theater and street-side studio that replaced the American Repertory Theater’s experimental venue, OBERON, and abutting former retail space. The combined 11,500-square-foot facility provides much-needed rehearsal and performance opportunities and is equipped to handle a wide variety of projects. ASA founder and long-time Cambridge resident David Altshuler, Ph.D.-M.D. ’94, envisions everything from “traditional musical theater to live music, dance, spoken word, circus, comedy, immersive audio, magic, and experimental programs that integrate multiple art forms.” Reflecting that range, the festival is produced by Liars and Believers (LaB), a Cambridge ensemble led by Georgia Lyman and Jason Slavick focused on artist-generated collective theatrical content. Fostering regional talent is also part of ASA’s overall mission—and goes along with revitalizing the arts and accessibility to them. “We love Harvard Square,” says Altshuler, “and we believe that fresh programming delivered in renewed and expanded spaces will make a difference and motivate traditional and new audiences to come back to the Square and join us on our journey of exploration and dis­covery.” A founding core member and former deputy director at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Altshuler is now executive vice president of global research and chief scientific officer at the Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

ASA was designed to accommodate audiences ranging from 150 to 600 people—the kind of flexible interior that best supports the arts in New England. Moreover, ASA’s educational programming will help foster exploration of topics like affordability, increasing arts resources, and equity. “We are dedicated to being a part of the ‘why and how’ as we move beyond the pandemic and bring life back to our shared spaces,” Altshuler notes. “We are confident that ‘art builds community.’” 

Best Classic Bands

The Surprising Return of Tracy Chapman: Will There Be More?

Tracy Chapman was 45 years old when she finished her 2009 summer tour at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Although she had achieved every level of success as a recording artist, her career was at a bit of a crossroads, the very name of her second studio album, released 20 years earlier.

Chapman’s self-titled 1988 debut was one of the music industry’s great artist development stories. Born on March 30, 1964, in Cleveland, Ohio, she enrolled at Tufts University, majoring in Anthropology, while also singing in coffee houses and night clubs and doing street performing around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. She was discovered by Brian Koppelman, a fellow student, who told Rolling Stone a year later, “I was helping organize a boycott protest against apartheid at school, and [someone] told me there was this great protest singer I should get to play at the rally.”

Koppelman swiped a demo tape from the college radio station and played it for his father, Charles, a veteran music industry executive. Soon signed to Elektra Records, Chapman’s debut album featured 11 original compositions, including “Talking ’bout a Revolution” and “Fast Car.” Defying all odds for a debut album from a Black female singer-songwriter, 1988’s Tracy Chapman topped the album charts around the world, including the U.S., where it was certified 6x Platinum. It went on to become one of the most successful debuts of all time, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide. It remains one of the most successful albums by a female artist in history.

In an alternative universe, Chapman’s performance at the 66th annual Grammy Awards on February 4, 2024, where she performed “Fast Car’ as a duet with country superstar Luke Combs, would be the icing on the cake of a career filled with a more traditional album-tour, album-tour routine. Instead, the performance, which has since received headlines around the globe, along with plenty of social media discussion, was just Chapman’s fourth public performance in 15 years. Hers is a story of quick, early stardom that turned into an equally abrupt fadeaway.

Two months after her debut album’s release, Chapman performed “Fast Car” at the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute at London’s Wembley Stadium, giving her access to the world stage.

Broadway World

Arrow Street Arts to Begin Programming in Renovated Performance Spaces This April

The Harvard Square venue will reopen its larger performance space, hosting Boston Opera Collaborative’s production of Carmen beginning April 4.

Arrow Street Arts is set to begin regular programming in its newly renovated performance spaces beginning April 1, 2024. The Harvard Square venue will reopen its larger performance space, the flexible Black Box Theater, hosting Boston Opera Collaborative’s production of Carmen with performances beginning April 4. That production will be followed by other opera, music, theater, and dance performances throughout the spring and early summer.

Arrow Street Arts’ 1,100 square foot street-front Studio space opened in January 2024, and is already hosting dance classes, workshops, meetings, rehearsals, and performances, including many supported by grants through the Arrow Street Arts Fund at the Cambridge Community Foundation.

Due to an installation delay with the venue’s bespoke telescopic seating system, ASA’s launch festival, originally planned for March 2024, has been moved to September 2024.

The fall launch festival, produced for Arrow Street Arts by Cambridge-based Liars and Believers (Georgia Lyman, executive producer and Jason Slavick, artistic director), will offer a wide variety of performances, events, and gatherings celebrating the vibrant diversity of the local performing arts community. The festival will take place September 7-14, 2024, marking the grand opening of ASA’s Harvard Square venue. All artists who responded to the open call for the original March dates are being considered by the selection panel for the rescheduled festival. Details on the performer lineup will be announced later this spring.

Throughout the first six months of this year, five performing arts companies will activate the Arrow Street Arts spaces with support awarded through the Arrow Street Arts Fund at the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF), established by the two organizations to increase equitable access to the performance spaces for artists and arts organizations who wish to present their work at ASA’s venues. These inaugural CCF/Arrow Street Arts Fund grant recipients (listed below) will use ASA’s space for projects of their own design, including theatrical performances, teaching residencies for choreographers, multidisciplinary dance showcases, and open dance studios. For more information on future CCF grants, visit: https://cambridgecf.org/grantmaking/arrow-street-arts-fund/

Inaugural Arrow Street Arts Fund awards were made by CCF to these organizations:

Boston Opera Collaborative (BOC) is committed to reducing barriers for opera artists and audiences. Their programming centers around providing professional performing opportunities for emerging artists in the Boston area and bringing intimate and unique operatic experiences to the Boston area. At Arrow Street Arts, BOC will present Georges Bizet‘s and Peter Brook‘s La Tragédie de Carmen (Carmen), April 4-7, 2024.

Janelle Gilchrist Dance Troupe is a women-led and Black-owned Ballet company that works within the Cambridge community. Funding from their Arrow Street Arts grant will be used to showcase two works in ASA’s Black Box Theater: Journeys 2018 and Danzas y Canciones. Rehearsals and performances take place in the Black Box Theater July 19-21, 2024.

Through the Nourish project, Jessica Roseman Dance works with Black mothers from Cambridge in partnership with Cambridge Center For Families to provide a healing, creative community together. This work has inspired Jessica’s new choreographed work, also called Nourish. Funding will be used to hold periodic open rehearsals and showcase Jessica’s solo dance as it develops. Rehearsals will continue for six months, culminating in two performances in the Studio scheduled for June 21-22, 2024, and a series of lunchtime community showings on February 28, April 24, and May 29.

CCF funding will support Jo-Mé Dance’s upcoming show, Guilty Until Proven Innocent (The Sean Ellis Story) in ASA’s Black Box Theater in June 2024 (exact dates TBA). This contemporary dance work, choreographed by Joe González and featuring majority BIPOC Boston- and Cambridge-based contemporary dancers, will be based on the story of Sean Ellis, a 19-year-old Black man wrongfully imprisoned in Boston for 22 years.

Midday Movement Series will use funding to offer a process-focused platform supporting early-career and mid-career contemporary dance-makers to deepen their works-in-progress through a three-pronged approach. Six artists/companies will participate in month-long teaching residencies with a final informal showing of work-in-progress. All six works-in-progress will be presented for two performances in ASA’s Black Box Theater on Saturday, July 13, 2024. All program components are free to the artists (except classes, where artists earn 60% fees) and free or low-cost for audiences.


Arrow Street Arts to Begin Programming in Renovated Performance Spaces This AprilArrow Street Arts is set to begin regular programming in its newly renovated performance spaces beginning April 1, 2024. The Harvard Square venue will reopen its larger performance space, the flexible Black Box Theater, hosting Boston Opera Collaborative’s production of Carmen with performances beginning April 4. That production will be followed by other opera, music, theater, and dance performances throughout the spring and early summer.

Arrow Street Arts’ 1,100 square foot street-front Studio space opened in January 2024, and is already hosting dance classes, workshops, meetings, rehearsals, and performances, including many supported by grants through the Arrow Street Arts Fund at the Cambridge Community Foundation.

Due to an installation delay with the venue’s bespoke telescopic seating system, ASA’s launch festival, originally planned for March 2024, has been moved to September 2024.

The fall launch festival, produced for Arrow Street Arts by Cambridge-based Liars and Believers (Georgia Lyman, executive producer and Jason Slavick, artistic director), will offer a wide variety of performances, events, and gatherings celebrating the vibrant diversity of the local performing arts community. The festival will take place September 7-14, 2024, marking the grand opening of ASA’s Harvard Square venue. All artists who responded to the open call for the original March dates are being considered by the selection panel for the rescheduled festival. Details on the performer lineup will be announced later this spring.

Five Organizations to Offer Performances as Inaugural CCF/ASA Fund Grant Recipients

Throughout the first six months of this year, five performing arts companies will activate the Arrow Street Arts spaces with support awarded through the Arrow Street Arts Fund at the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF), established by the two organizations to increase equitable access to the performance spaces for artists and arts organizations who wish to present their work at ASA’s venues. These inaugural CCF/Arrow Street Arts Fund grant recipients (listed below) will use ASA’s space for projects of their own design, including theatrical performances, teaching residencies for choreographers, multidisciplinary dance showcases, and open dance studios. For more information on future CCF grants, visit: https://cambridgecf.org/grantmaking/arrow-street-arts-fund/

Inaugural Arrow Street Arts Fund awards were made by CCF to these organizations:

Boston Opera Collaborative (BOC) is committed to reducing barriers for opera artists and audiences. Their programming centers around providing professional performing opportunities for emerging artists in the Boston area and bringing intimate and unique operatic experiences to the Boston area. At Arrow Street Arts, BOC will present Georges Bizet‘s and Peter Brook‘s La Tragédie de Carmen (Carmen), April 4-7, 2024.

Janelle Gilchrist Dance Troupe is a women-led and Black-owned Ballet company that works within the Cambridge community. Funding from their Arrow Street Arts grant will be used to showcase two works in ASA’s Black Box Theater: Journeys 2018 and Danzas y Canciones. Rehearsals and performances take place in the Black Box Theater July 19-21, 2024.

Through the Nourish project, Jessica Roseman Dance works with Black mothers from Cambridge in partnership with Cambridge Center For Families to provide a healing, creative community together. This work has inspired Jessica’s new choreographed work, also called Nourish. Funding will be used to hold periodic open rehearsals and showcase Jessica’s solo dance as it develops. Rehearsals will continue for six months, culminating in two performances in the Studio scheduled for June 21-22, 2024, and a series of lunchtime community showings on February 28, April 24, and May 29.

CCF funding will support Jo-Mé Dance’s upcoming show, Guilty Until Proven Innocent (The Sean Ellis Story) in ASA’s Black Box Theater in June 2024 (exact dates TBA). This contemporary dance work, choreographed by Joe González and featuring majority BIPOC Boston- and Cambridge-based contemporary dancers, will be based on the story of Sean Ellis, a 19-year-old Black man wrongfully imprisoned in Boston for 22 years.

Midday Movement Series will use funding to offer a process-focused platform supporting early-career and mid-career contemporary dance-makers to deepen their works-in-progress through a three-pronged approach. Six artists/companies will participate in month-long teaching residencies with a final informal showing of work-in-progress. All six works-in-progress will be presented for two performances in ASA’s Black Box Theater on Saturday, July 13, 2024. All program components are free to the artists (except classes, where artists earn 60% fees) and free or low-cost for audiences.

The Arrow Street Arts Fund at the Cambridge Community Foundation is accepting additional applications through February 15, 2024, and a second round of grants will be awarded in March. For more information, visit: https://cambridgecf.org/grantmaking/arrow-street-arts-fund/

Performances This Spring/Summer by Cambridge-Based Arts Organizations

With the first production in ASA’s Studio opening February 16, 2024, Cambridge-based Moonbox Productions, the resident theater company at Arrow Street Arts, will present The Manic Monologues. The Manic Monologues brings to life incredible true stories that will challenge and inform your ideas about what it means to be touched by a mental health condition. The Manic Monologues runs through February 25.

Longy School of Music of Bard College, also located in Harvard Square, will present its spring opera production, Rachel Portman‘s and Nicholas Wright‘s The Little Prince, in the Black Box Theater April 12-13, 2024. The production features students in Longy’s Vocal Studies and Orchestra FLEX programs.

Following its February production of The Manic Monologues, Moonbox Productions will return to the Black Box Theater with The Mermaid Hour, a play by David Valdes April 26-May 19, 2024. For Pilar and Bird, parenting a trans tween is all about guessing how to get it right when they’re not even sure what that means—and it doesn’t help that they’re not on the same page. Vi just wishes they would keep up: she’s busy navigating her first crush on super-cool Jacob, obsessing over her favorite YouTube vlogger, and just about ready to make herself an internet sensation. Fast-paced, funny, and heartfelt, The Mermaid Hour finds all three confronting the gaps between who they are and who they wish to be.

For more information and to book tickets for any event at Arrow Street Arts, visit arrowstarts.org.

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The Harvard Crimson

Fans, Critics Spill the Beans on New Mexican Restaurant Achilito’s

Achilito’s, a small chain of Mexican restaurants based around Massachusetts, opened its newest location in Harvard Square earlier this year.

Though the restaurant already has locations in Jamaica Plain, Brighton, and Foxborough, its 84 Winthrop Street location marks its first foray into the Cambridge area. The menu features a variety of Mexican and Latin American dishes, ranging from burritos, quesadillas, and bowls to empanadas, elotes, and pupusas.

Daniel Wood, a West Cambridge resident, said he was driven by a sense of curiosity to try Achilito’s, but it was the quality of the food and service that led him to return.

“When it opened, I wanted to give them a shot because they looked like they were working really hard to get the place off the ground,” Wood said.

But Wood said he quickly appreciated “wonderful” staff and high quality of food.

“I really have noticed the freshness of the food,” he said. “And it’s affordable, the small and large portions.”

But Taj S. Gulati ’25 said his experience with the food at Achilito’s was “not that good.”

“It’s really wet,” he said. “It’s quite moist. And that might be some people’s yum — I personally don’t enjoy it.”

Achilito’s staff did not respond to requests for comment.

Achilito’s will face tough competition in Harvard Square, which is known for the dominance of El Jefe’s Taqueria and Felipe’s Taqueria, two Mexican restaurants appreciated by students for their long hours.

Both have withstood the longstanding, fierce competition for the Square’s demand for Mexican food.

Some customers expressed disappointment about the new addition. Gulati said that instead of another Mexican restaurant, Harvard Square would be better served by more culinary variety.

“You do not need another Mexican restaurant. We have Jefe’s, we have Felipe’s,” Gulati said. “They’re cute. They have a little rivalry.”

“Maybe get some late night Chinese food, a late night Indian place,” he added. “I didn’t need a third [Mexican] option.”

Francisco Lagos, a kitchen manager at Felipe’s, said the natural response to Achilito’s is to stay consistent and “keep everything fresh.”

“We are focusing on what we’re doing,” Lagos said. “We have to keep the same quality.”

Still, Lagos suggested that Felipe’s may consider extending its weeklong hours to stay competitive.

Wood said that Achilito’s arrival onto the Mexican food scene in Harvard Square may improve the quality of existing restaurants.

“That keeps everybody on their toes,” he said. “Anytime you have competing businesses, you’re going to want to make sure your place is up to par.”

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The Boston Globe

Photos: See Annette Bening parade through Cambridge as Hasty Pudding’s Woman of the Year


Annette Bening was honored as the 2024 Woman of the Year in Cambridge on Tuesday.

The Oscar-nominated actress sat between Hasty Pudding Theatrical members Nikita Nair and Joshua Hillers in a gray convertible during the afternoon parade through Harvard Yard. Other Hasty Pudding cast members, dressed in colorful costumes, danced around the convertible, forming a semi-protective bubble around Bening.

The car parked just outside of Harvard Yard, where she gathered with cast members and others to take photos. As she was escorted away to prepare for the evening’s festivities, the Blue Man Group and Chelsea Vuong, the 2023 Miss Massachusetts and a 2021 Harvard University graduate, stayed behind to take photos with supporters and dance.

Annette Bening received kisses from Crystal Manyloun, left, and Maureen Clare during the photo session after the Hasty Pudding Roast.

A celebratory roast of Bening took place following the parade on Tuesday night, where she was presented with the golden pudding pot at Farkas Hall, the home of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals since 1888. Bening also attended a press conference after the roast, as well as a performance of Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ 175th production, “Heist Heist Baby.”

The Woman of the Year award is the latest honor bestowed upon Bening, a two-time Golden Globe winner and five-time Oscar nominee known for her roles in “Nyad,” “The Grifters,” and “American Beauty.”

Barry Keoghan, of “Saltburn,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and “Dunkirk,” was honored last Friday as the group’s Man of the Year, an honor given annually since its inception in 1967.
Hasty Pudding is the oldest theatrical group in the United States and one of the oldest in the world. Since 1951, it has annually presented a Woman of the Year award to “performers who have made lasting and impressive contributions to the world of entertainment,” according to a press release. Past recipients have included Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, and most recently Boston’s own Jennifer Coolidge.

Members of Hasty Pudding Theatricals leading out Annette Bening during the parade for Harvard's Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year on Tuesday.
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The Boston Globe

Harvard Book Store shelves plan for second location in the Pru

The owners blamed ‘considerable’ economic challenges, ‘including supply chain disruptions and escalating costs’

Cambridge-based Harvard Book Store will not be opening a second store in the Prudential Center, after its owners announced Friday that the project faced “considerable” economic challenges, including “ongoing supply chain disruptions and escalating costs” from the fallout of the pandemic.

It’s sour news for the Boston literary scene, which once cheered the opportunity to see the beloved bookstore expand inside one of the city’s busiest shopping centers. Now it is unclear what will fill the nearly 30,000-square-foot empty storefront inside the Pru, previously occupied by Barnes & Noble. (Prudential Center landlord Boston Properties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Co-owner Jeff Mayersohn said the announcement, while frustrating, offers a chance for the bookstore to refocus on upgrading the original Harvard Square outpost.

“While [the Pru] project has now been canceled, we are investing in improvements at our flagship Cambridge location, which has always been the heart of Harvard Book Store,” a statement from the bookstore team read. “The cancellation of the Pru project is humbling and disappointing.”

Harvard Book Store has only recently recovered from a pandemic-era dip in revenue, thanks to a surge in customers and hundreds of events and author readings last year, Mayersohn said.

“I’m pleased to say we are finally back to where we were prior to the pandemic,” he added. “That does not mean that we don’t understand how disheartening the news about the Prudential location is for the Back Bay neighborhood, and really, all of Boston.”

Mayersohn and his co-owners — wife Linda Seamonson, and John Henry, who also owns Boston Globe Media — once imagined the Pru location as a community hub, home to an expansive book inventory, children’s section, and event space.

The project marked the first major off-site expansion of the Harvard Book Store since the Harvard Book Store Cafe on Newbury Street closed in 1994,and a significant move under the leadership of the Henrys, who bought into the business as part-owner in December 2021.

In an emailed statement, Linda Henrysaid that the couple “are continuing to invest in Harvard Book Store to ensure that it remains a thriving, sustainable hub for readers, writers, and community voices.”

“Like the Globe, Harvard Book Store serves an important civic role,” said Linda Henry, who is also CEO of the Globe. “Just as local, independent journalism is vital to our region and our democracy, local independent bookstores are important cultural pillars in our community.

When the Pru location was first announced in July 2022, Harvard Book Store staff said the second storefront was the culmination of Mayersohn’s long-held vision to expand the business. And its growth was in keeping with the success independent booksellers across Greater Boston have found these past four years.

After long struggling amid the rise of Amazon, big-box stores, and e-readers, small bookshops benefited from a reading revival during the first waves of COVID-19. At least a dozen bookshops have opened or expanded in the Boston area since 2020.

Sadly, the second location for Harvard Book Store won’t be following the same trend.

“At the end of the day,” Mayersohn said of cancelling the Prudential project, “it was the right thing to do.”

Correction: A prior version of this story incorrectly stated that Harvard Book Store had not expanded into another location before.

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Boston.com

Harvard Book Store halts Prudential Center expansion

The Cambridge bookstore cited “ongoing disruptions to the supply chain and escalating costs.”

Harvard Book Store announced Friday that it has canceled plans to open a second location in Boston’s Prudential Center.

The Cambridge bookstore had previously announced an expansion that would take over the space previously held by Barnes and Noble, with a planned opening of spring 2023. After delays, the store’s ownership said that the project would not move forward due to “ongoing disruptions to the supply chain and escalating costs” caused, in part, by the continued impact of the pandemic on the construction industry.

“The cancellation of the Pru project is humbling and disappointing. Despite exploring all available options, the lingering effects of the pandemic have continued to create considerable challenges for construction projects of this size and scope,” the bookstore said in a statement, adding, “our ambitious 29,000-square-foot expansion would ultimately prove unsustainable.”

The planned location was anticipated to have a “state-of-the-art event space” and “vibrant community spaces,” according to a release from the initial 2022 announcement. 

Instead, the nearly century-old independent bookstore will invest in improvements to its flagship location in Harvard Square, to “enhance the in-store experience, while continuing to enrich our commitment to customer service, our flourishing author event series, and our excellent inventory.”

In its statement, the store’s ownership thanked partners, John and Linda Henry, for their continued support. John Henry also owns Boston Globe Media, including Boston.com.

Independent bookstores in Greater Boston have seen a boom in recent years. Both Porter Square Books and Provincetown’s East End Books have both expanded with second locations in Seaport. Also new to Boston since 2020 are Beacon Hill Books & Cafe and Rozzie Bound Co-op.

The news of Harvard Book Store’s expansion was met with enthusiasm from the literary community of Boston. In Friday’s message to customers, the store thanked its community for the “overwhelming support.”

“Bookstores matter. They are an integral part of a deeply engaged community; places you turn to for inspiration, adventure, and learning,” the statement read. “Our top priority has always been to remain a healthy, thriving, independent bookstore — one that can continue to grow and serve our community for many years to come.”

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The Huntington News

16th annual Taste of Chocolate Festival sweetens Harvard Square visitors’ weekends

Hundreds of visitors lined up on Brattle Street Saturday afternoon for the first day of the 13th annual Taste of Chocolate Festival.

Hosted by the Harvard Square Business Association, the festival made a successful comeback after a three-year hiatus. Featuring local cafes and shops, visitors were able to indulge in free chocolate samples, enjoy live entertainment and partake in special promotions at nearby businesses.

The highlight of the festival was the free chocolate tasting event at 1 p.m. that had visitors eagerly lined up an hour beforehand. One by one, chocolate-lovers picked up samples from participating businesses that ranged from toffee bites to hot chocolate and mini smores. Despite a seemingly endless line, businesses tabling were able to continuously hand out free samples for over two hours.

Along with mouth-watering chocolate delicacies, visitors also enjoyed live entertainment from Grooversity, a Brazilian drumming group. With its high energy drumming, wide smiles and synchronized dancing, the group easily got the crowd moving and jumping to the beat.

Around 2:30 p.m., the entertainment switched over to DJ Joey Finnz, who played a mix of pop songs, throwbacks and nu-disco music. As the sun came out, more people began to gather around and dance to Finnz’s set, contributing to the increasingly energetic atmosphere.

While adults sipped on hot chocolate-infused cocktails and wines provided by the Commonwealth Wine School, those underage were able to play ping-pong and cornhole.

Harvard Square businesses also embraced the festival with various chocolate specials and discounts for those looking for extra treats after the free tasting.

Through a shared love of chocolate, businesses and attendees alike were able to forge new connections.

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