Harvard Square’s first cannabis dispensary — and its first Black-woman-owned business — is on track to open in September, CEO Leah Samura tells Axios.
Driving the news: Yamba Boutique is undergoing architectural review as Samura prepares for its opening.
It would be the city’s second dispensary. Central Square’s Yamba Market — owned by Samura’s husband, Sieh, and their business partner, Sean Hope — was the first.
Why it matters: The state’s fast-growing cannabis industry remains predominantly white and male, with Black and brown entrepreneurs mostly shut out of financing and commercial real estate opportunities.
The state has an application process for license holders who were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, or who live in communities affected by it.
Pit-A-Palooza farewell party for Harvard Square sounded, moshed and even smelled like old times
The crowd Saturday at Pit-A-Palooza in Harvard Square. (Photo: Victoria Rein)
A farewell party to Harvard Square’s “Pit” on Saturday – officially, Pit-A-Palooza – sparked nostalgia in several ways.
“There’s the cheap weed I remember,” a man in the crowd could be heard saying as community members lit up joints.
The event brought hundreds to the famed Pit, the area directly surrounding the Harvard Square subway station headhouse that’s due to be removed in a redesign of the brick plaza because of noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Pit, a sunken area built in 1982 for public gatherings, was adopted by the Boston punk scene and other outcasts and unhoused youth as a place to gather and hang out without judgment.
Author Jen Deaderick, one of the event’s organizers with city councillor Marc McGovern, summarized the spirit of The Pit during a short speech: “We’re all freaks and weirdos.”
The band Colin of Arabia performs Saturday at Pit-A-Palooza. (Photo: Victoria Rein)
Now 54, Dave Unger first stumbled on The Pit and its subculture when he was just 12 years old while visiting his aunt in Central Square on weekends.
“We used to come up here and I would see the punks in The Pit and I was like, ‘Wow, these people are fucking cool,’” said Dave Unger, a veteran of Pit culture. “We’d party in The Pit – we couldn’t go to bars, we weren’t 21 – so that’s what we used to do, hang out in The Pit, go see ‘Rocky Horror’ over at the Harvard movie theater.” (Midnight shows of the cult 1975 film were a staple at the 10 Church St. AMC Loews Harvard Square 5 from 1984 to the cinema’s closing in July 2012.)
The Pit and Harvard Square plaza in a quiet moment in March 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Marc Levy)
Live music was common in The Pit over the years, an aspect honored with a concert by Boston-based metal band Colin of Arabia.
The air smelled of sweat and marijuana as energetic fans surrounded frontman Colin Campbell, jumping and dancing – a genuine-seeming enjoyment of a commemorative concert lived in the moment, true to the spirit of the original, self-proclaimed pit kids or pit rats.
Fyrestar, a member of the performance group Full Body Cast, which brought some “Rocky Horror Picture Show” performances to the Saturday event (and who preferred to be referred to by an alias), attended Northeastern in the ’90s and said The Pit is where she and her friends would hang out.
Among those at Pit-A-Palooza on Saturday was one person with a sign saying “Keep The Pit, Lose the Rats in City Hall & the HSBA,” or Harvard Square Business Association. (Photo: Victoria Rein)
“Everybody was welcome here, everybody got along. There would be people drawing, painting, it was great,” she said. “It’s the end of an era, really. I hope the spirit lives on in the new plaza. I hope it’s as welcoming and no-judgment as it’s always been.”
Though eventgoers seemed to understand the value of making the T stop ADA-compliant, many expressed sadness at the thought of The Pit’s destruction.
“I don’t know, it’s like the Boston Common – just a Boston thing that should always be here,” Unger said. “It’s a bummer, man. It’s a fucking shame.”
The celebration ran from 6 to 10 p.m. and included a beer garden, a fundraiser for the Bridge Over Troubled Waters medical van and Narcan opioid-overdose response training in addition to the entertainment to mark Pit Rat Day in Harvard Square.
Though renovations to the plaza mean “we will lose the physical appearance of The Pit, this area will continue to be a welcoming place for young people to gather,” McGovern said.
The organizers of Pit-A-Palooza are aware of the irony. They’re putting on an organized, permitted event to celebrate the impending demise of Harvard Square’s longtime home of anarchy, spontaneity and youth culture: the Pit.
The sunken area behind the entrance to the Harvard MBTA station was originally designed with the intent of showcasing street performers — and at times it did. But within months of being unveiled as part of the 1982 Red Line extension, the Pit became a gathering place for punks and outcasts. With renovations about to replace the Pit with a plaza, a group of self-described “Pit Rats” are gathering for a reunion and celebration called Pit-A-Palooza on June 25.
Now here is an event fit for more than a few former DigBoston contributors.
Long live the Pit! Here’s what the organizers are planning …
The City of Cambridge, City Councillor Marc McGovern, Cambridge resident and author, Jen Deaderick and the Harvard Square Business Association are excited to announce Pit-A-Palooza, a celebration of the notorious and revered Harvard Square “Pit” and those who called it home. The festivities kick off at 6pm in The Pit and adjacent Dunster Street. Relive the glory days of the 80s and 90s and dance, reminisce, sing and make some noise! Bring your old photos! Dress the part – drag out your fishnets, leather and studs! Show your kids how cool you were!
In conjunction with the honoring this much loved and storied gathering spot, the City of Cambridge has proclaimed June 25, 2022 to be “Pit Rat Day”.
Spotlight, Mirror and Book, composed with LED lights and a round metal mirror, will be set up at in front of the statue.
Juneteenth or Freedom Day, commemorates the end of enslavement for African descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. While the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 publicly declared the end of slavery in the United States, freedom was not fully realized for enslaved people in Texas until June 19th, 1865.
To commemorate Juneteenth, the Harvard Square Business Association, in partnership with local artists, Ross Miller and Yolanda He Yang, is installing a fleeting art…
The festivities kick off at 6pm in The Pit and adjacent Dunster Street. Relive the glory days of the 80s and 90s and dance, reminisce, sing and make some noise!
The City of Cambridge, City Councillor Marc McGovern, Cambridge resident and author, Jen Deaderick and the Harvard Square Business Association have announced Pit-A-Palooza, a celebration of the notorious and revered Harvard Square “Pit” and those who called it home.
The festivities kick off at 6pm in The Pit and adjacent Dunster Street. Relive the glory days of the 80s and 90s and dance, reminisce, sing and make some noise! Bring your old photos! Dress the part – drag out your fishnets, leather and studs! Show your kids how cool you were!
In conjunction with the honoring this much loved and storied gathering spot, the City of Cambridge has proclaimed June 25, 2022 to be “Pit Rat Day”.
Harvard Square is known for many things — throngs of students, a rich history of artistic and musical exchange, sky-high rents, arguably overpriced yet beloved stationary stores — but the food scene is not necessarily one of them. Still, thousands of hungry people pass through the Square every day, some on their way to class or the office, others headed to rub the pee-shined toe of not-John Harvard himself. Here is our somewhat definitive guide to the various food experiences of Harvard Square, organized roughly by the situation in which each spot might prove most useful.
It’s time to… splurge (reasonably!) and eat well: Orinoco + Maharaja + Dumpling House + Nine Tastes
Tired of cooking yourself the same kind of meals night after night? Hoping to experience some variety that your dining hall can’t offer? Harvard Square is as good a spot as any to mix it up and get a delicious meal you might not have tried before. Tucked away behind other businesses that line JFK Street, Orinoco offers a cozy atmosphere for enjoying delicious Venezuelan cuisine, ranging from arepas and empanadas to South American wines. Right across the street lies The Maharaja, one of Boston’s best Indian restaurants with an extensive menu and a prime view of the Square through their floor-to-ceiling windows. Dumpling House is located a bit farther off of the beaten path, but their fantastic Chinese cuisine makes a trip down Mass. Ave. well worth the walk. Their food is best enjoyed family-style, so get a group together and devour as many dumplings as you can manage! With the recent closure of Spicies, Nine Tastes stands as the preeminent Thai restaurant in Harvard Square. It’s a favorite for takeout among college students, but has a great area for dining in, too.
It’s time to… grab a slice of pizza: Pinocchio’s + Otto’s + &pizza + Source
If you find yourself in Harvard Square with a craving for some good old-fashioned pizza, you are in luck — the area is full of great options. Pinocchio’s is a Cambridge staple, a favorite among Harvard students and locals alike since 1966. Their thick-crust Sicilian style pizza, which they sell by the slice, makes an excellent late-night snack. Don’t sleep on their meatball sub or baked ziti either. For those in search of less traditional flavors, Otto’s offers a wide array of toppings guaranteed to satisfy any niche cravings. Customization is also at the heart of the &pizza experience, as the East Coast chain’s relatively new Cambridge location serves personal-sized pizzas to customers looking for quick and easy takeout. Finally, Source — another new entry into the Harvard Square restaurant scene — is the only pizza spot out of this bunch with a full-service, sit-down dining area, as well as a thriving bar.
It’s time to… enjoy some high-end pub food: Daedalus + The Boathouse + Grafton Street + Russell House
Food and drink intertwine seamlessly at these Harvard Square establishments. All restaurants are with prominent bars, but they’re also all a step above your typical pub — both in price and quality of food. Daedalus and The Boathouse are next-door neighbors on Mt. Auburn Street, while Russell House and Grafton Street both line JFK Street, making all four of these spots incredibly convenient meeting spots for friends, colleagues, and tourists alike. They each offer tasty variations of American cuisine alongside extensive alcohol selections; Russell House is probably the most popular amongst students, although none of these restaurants would be mistaken for a college bar. They cater to a distinctly more professional crowd. Daedalus stands out as the most expensive, although those looking to splurge on a night out will appreciate the fine dining experience they offer.
Margo was always upbeat and one of the healthiest people I knew, exercising and eating a healthy diet. It was a surprise to us all when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 30s.
When the cancer was in remission, she researched the data on the disease. She told me that there was a higher incidence of breast cancer in Andover, where she grew up. She threw herself into volunteering, most notably with the Women’s Community Cancer Project and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, where she was elected board president.
After 50 years as a retail and cultural hub in the middle of Harvard Square, The Garage will soon be redeveloped.
“We love the building,” said John DiGiovanni, president of Trinity Property Management. “It was and is a very cool place. But what I would say is cooler than The Garage is Harvard Square.”
DiGiovanni said the old building — which dates back to 1860, when it was a horse stable — is not accessible for patrons with disabilities. He also hopes the redesign will reinvigorate the property to bring in new customers, and that “40 or 50 years from now people will be talking about how cool [the new] place was.”
Construction plans filed with the city show developers plan to begin renovations in 2023, rebuilding the interior while preserving the masonry facades on Mt. Auburn and Dunster streets. Trinity Property Management is working on getting restaurants, retail businesses and office tenants into the new building, though leases have not yet been signed.
But some current tenants and frequent visitors to The Garage are concerned about what this project means for the future of the neighborhood. Comedian, podcast host and Harvard Square frequenter Ken Reid joined GBH’s Morning Edition this week to reflect on his memories of the shopping center.LISTEN 8:26Ken Reid on Morning Edition | June 7, 2022
Reid grew up in Melrose and would ride the Orange Line to spend time at The Garage, where he recalls digging through crates at record stores looking for gold, getting artisan coffee in the pre-Starbucks world, and renting films like “Eraserhead” from Videosmith.
“Almost nothing of the Harvard Square I grew up with exists. Frankly, almost nothing of the Boston I grew up with exists,” he said. “That’s not necessarily for the worse … but it is losing character.”
Reid said The Garage stood out for its unique businesses that customers couldn’t find elsewhere, especially before the Internet. Now he expects some current Garage tenants will shift to online businesses, while he hopes others will find new physical spaces.
“We’re working with the owner of the building to hopefully relocate us somewhere in the Harvard Square area,” said Rueben Kayden, a senior tattoo artist who will take over the storied shop after the move as the current owner retires. “That’s the ultimate goal. But that comes with a lofty price.”
Kayden, who has been tattooing at Chameleon for 17 years, said he’s been leaning on the shop’s community. Moving costs may end up clocking in around $80,000-$100,000, he said, not including rent. But Trinity Property Management is working with the business, and clients are offering help in whatever ways they can. Some are donating money, others with carpentry or plumbing skills have offered their time.
“It’s about keeping the culture of tattooing alive in Harvard Square,” Kayden said. “Small businesses are closing constantly, and I feel that there isn’t much flavor left in Harvard. We’re one of the last artistic endeavors available in the area. And it became my personal mission to make sure it stays alive and stays true.”
Our favorite moments from Boston Calling Music Festival 2022