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Mary-Catherine Deibel, a Harvard Square restaurateur and advocate, dies at age 72

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Mary-Catherine Deibel, a Harvard Square restaurateur and advocate, dies at age 72

By Molly Farrar

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Mary-Catherine Deibel. (Photo: Morgue Obituaries)

Mary-Catherine Deibel – a restaurateur known to the Cambridge community as the “unofficial mayor of Harvard Square” – passed away at age 72 on Thursday.

Run with co-owner Deborah Hughes, her restaurant UpStairs on the Square, originally UpStairs at the Pudding, served celebrities and raised the bar of fine dining in Boston. It closed in 2013 after 31 years.

“I have two life partners, my husband and Deborah – and I probably spend more time with Deborah,” Deibel told Boston College Magazine in 2004, just a few years after the second iteration of UpStairs opened.

Deibel handled the front of the restaurant, greeting guests warmly, while Hughes was the chef. The pair reflected on memories with the Harvard Crimson in 2013 such as hosting Ella Fitzgerald, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Robin Williams. Deibel told the Globe five years ago that her favorite customer was Madeleine Albright.

The restaurant was also known for its pops of color and animal prints, a unique take on upscale dining that earned them a place as one of the top restaurants in the area.

She was a member of the Harvard Square Business Association since the 1980s through her restaurant, and was elected president of its board of directors in 2022 – the first woman in that role. Deibel spent her career bettering Harvard Square. After her time as a restaurateur, she turned to her other love, classical music, and fundraised for the Longy School of Music, as well as working as director of development for Brattle Street’s Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

“She knew a lot of people from all walks of life and she will be sorely missed and she’s irreplaceable,” said Denise Jillson, executive director of the HSBA. “You can really get a sense for the void that is in Harvard Square as a result of Mary-Catherine’s passing.”

Jillson met Deibel in 2007, and she said her approach to the presidency was unique.

“Her perspective on board business was different. Her starting point is always about people and about being gracious and inviting and hospitable,” Jillson said. “Her sheer hospitality was renowned.”

CCAE executive director Linda Burton said for the past six years, Deibel’s role allowed her to organize hugely successful fundraisers with her own unique twist, inviting restaurants – most of them run by friends – to serve a “taste of Cambridge,” Burton said.

“She also was strong and a force of nature,” Burton said. “I really looked at her as my partner at the Cambridge Center, so it’s a big loss for me. She has so much wealth of experience.”

Cambridge’s City Council honored Deibel on Monday, passing a resolution remembering her contributions as restaurateur and as director of development with the CCAE.

“Everybody was invited to her table,” councillor E. Denise Simmons said. “Cambridge, but in particular Harvard Square, is going to miss her energy, her presence, her commitment.”

Deibel, who passed away after an illness, leaves her husband Reid Fleming, a sister and two brothers., according to published reports.

Deibel will be honored at the CCAE’s dumplings-themed fundraiser on Thursday, which she organized before her illness. The center announced that family and friends are attending to “enjoy Mary-Catherine’s last great party that she created – she wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Boston Globe

Mary-Catherine Deibel dies at 72; UpStairs on the Square co-owner was ‘unofficial mayor of Harvard Square’

Owners Mary-Catherine Deibel (right) and Deborah Hughes of UpStairs on the Square in a 2012 photograph.
Owners Mary-Catherine Deibel (right) and Deborah Hughes of UpStairs on the Square in a 2012 photograph.BOSTON GLOBE/GLOBE FREELANCE

A cellist when she was younger, Mary-Catherine Deibel managed a classical music group during her early years in the restaurant business, so it followed that she would draw a parallel between Greater Boston’s expanding culinary scene and its sprawling concert offerings.

“One thing I learned in the music business is that the more musical activity there is, the more people want to go to concerts, and that good concerts lead to more good concerts,” she told the Globe in 1984, a couple of years after opening UpStairs at the Pudding, which she co-owned.

And so it was with good restaurants, she said. Much like the conductors she watched while sneaking off to Friday symphony matinees, Ms. Deibel coaxed harmonious, ensemble performances every day — from the staff and patrons at UpStairs at the Pudding and its successor, UpStairs on the Square.

As co-owner of those Cambridge restaurants — both now gone, both missed by diners — she was a legendary presence at the front of each establishment, a hostess everyone remembered long after UpStairs on the Square closed at the end of 2013.

Ms. Deibel, whose longtime leadership roles in Cambridge business circles led many to consider her the unofficial mayor of Harvard Square, died Thursday in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center after a brief illness. She was 72 and lived in Arlington.

Recognizable to everyone, Ms. Deibel favored flowing scarves in magenta or pink, while co-owner Deborah Hughes sported ever-present oversized sunglasses. They were such a team that they often finished one another’s sentences in media interviews.

Each of their upscale venues — upstairs from Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Club and upstairs on Winthrop Street — had unforgettable décor, the latter particularly zingy.

“In its glorious new incarnation, the renamed UpStairs on the Square could double for a stage set — especially if the production were a reimagining of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by the ‘Moulin Rouge!’ director, Baz Luhrmann,” wrote Globe restaurant reviewers Joe Yonan and Amy Graves in 2002, after Ms. Deibel and Hughes moved UpStairs at the Pudding to Winthrop Street.

Over the years, patrons ranged from weekly regulars to luminaries such as chef Julia Child, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and singer Bono of U2. The food was always a draw, as was Ms. Deibel.

“Every night in the restaurant was like a private dinner party at her home, where she was there at the door to greet you,” said David Waters, who formerly was general manager of UpStairs at the Pudding. “Even more than the food it was about the ambiance in the dining room she created, where you felt you were the most important person there.”

Georgia Murray, who met Ms. Deibel when they attended college together and invested in both restaurants, said her friend “just made you happy. When you walked in the door, she made you feel like you were the person she was waiting for.”

“Mary-Catherine had that generosity of spirit right up to the end,” Murray added. “She never lost her sense of humor and always wanted people to get together.”

Born in Arlington Heights, Ill., on Sept. 30, 1950, Mary-Catherine Deibel was the second of four siblings.

Her mother was Florence Baxter Deibel and her father, Robert Deibel, was an executive at companies including Oral-B toothbrushes and Teledyne Water Pik.

“We had a very traditional, 1950s, mom-at-home, dad-a-business-executive upbringing,” said Ms. Deibel’s sister, Margaret O’Connor of Dallas.

And yet, “Cathie always had a highly creative perspective on life and a sense of style,” her sister said. “Where our family was pretty down-to-earth, she always had a real flamboyance and a love for pretty things and sparkly things, and she was extremely witty.”

Ms. Deibel attended Catholic schools, graduating from Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, N.J., and receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Newton College of the Sacred Heart.

An aspiring writer, she began reading each issue of The New Yorker magazine as a teenager, and later received a master’s in English literature from Boston University. Ms. Deibel freelanced magazine articles and restaurant reviews, and wrote short stories, though she never realized her goal of publishing in her favorite magazine.

After college she launched two careers, managing the classical music group Banchetto Musicale, which became Boston Baroque, and working at the Peasant Stock restaurant along the Cambridge-Somerville line, where she met Hughes.

Ms. Deibel initially opened UpStairs at the Pudding in the early 1980s with Michael Silver, Hughes’s then-husband (they later divorced). Forced out of that location nearly 20 years later when Harvard bought the Hasty Pudding building, Hughes and Ms. Deibel reopened the restaurant in 2002 on Winthrop Street as UpStairs on the Square.

Through Ms. Deibel’s fondness for croquet she met Reid Fleming, a seven-time national croquet champion. She rode along when a friend picked Fleming up at the airport en route to a Newport, R.I., competition.

“They danced at the croquet ball and the rest is history,” Ms. Deibel’s sister said.

The couple married five years later, in 1992.

“She took a chance on me big time, but she never saw it that way,” said Fleming, a computer numerical control machinist. “She said, ‘I’ve got the love of my life. Let’s get married.’ “

Though he was shy, “she gave me confidence,” he said. “In any social circumstance, she knew exactly what to say and exactly what to do.”

After she and Hughes closed their restaurant in 2013, Ms. Deibel worked in development for Longy School of Music and then was director of development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. She also was president of the Harvard Square Business Association.

Over the years, her community work included, with Hughes, using the restaurant to help support Cambridge Cares About AIDS.

Ms. Deibel spent 15 years on the board of Community Servings, a Jamaica Plain nonprofit nutrition program for the critically and chronically ill, where Waters is chief executive, and which prepares about 1.2 million meals annually for people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“Mary-Catherine used her limitless good will and can-do sunniness to make every event and occasion a festive pleasure,” wrote Corby Kummer, executive director of Food and Society at the Aspen Institute, in an e-mail.

“She and Deborah constantly cared for anyone who wanted to do good, and brought them together with a whole-face smile that could instantly lift anyone’s spirits,” said Kummer, who was among those who held wedding ceremonies at the UpStairs restaurants. “She made Upstairs an anchor of groups she realized needed to work together — a community-service organization with pink walls and Champagne.”

In addition to her husband and sister, Ms. Deibel leaves two brothers, Paul of Los Angeles and Robert of Denver.

A gathering to celebrate her life and work will be announced. “All Cathie wanted was a great party,” her sister said.

Ms. Deibel “probably had no idea how many people she touched and how many people are feeling the loss of that joie de vivre that she brought to us,” Waters said.

With Hughes, she also helped elevate Greater Boston’s status as a place to find inventive dining experiences and fine food.

“I think we’re a fabulous food city,” Ms. Deibel enthused in a Globe interview five years ago.

“I think in Boston, the diversity and the number of ambitious chefs is unparalleled,” she said. “How could it be better? I don’t know. Keep going. Maybe more food trucks!”

Boston Globe

In Arlekin’s ‘The Gaaga,’ a Ukrainian playwright puts Vladimir Putin on trial

Playwright-director Sasha Denisova at Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square, where her play, "The Gaaga," will be staged.
Playwright-director Sasha Denisova at Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square, where her play, “The Gaaga,” will be staged.PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

CAMBRIDGE — If there’s one thing that men in power can’t stand, it’s being made to look like a fool.

“Through the form of comedy, I’m trying to talk about serious things,” says the Ukrainian playwright Sasha Denisova, whose play, “The Gaaga,” gets its United States premiere in a two-week run at the former Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square beginning Friday. “I’m using the grotesque to show these characters, because they’re ridiculous.”

“These characters” are a certain Vladimir Putin and his cronies in the Russian government, who have alarmed the world with their year-long reign of terror in the sovereign nation of Ukraine. “The Gaaga” imagines a young woman living in a bomb shelter, who dreams up a war-crimes tribunal that puts the Russian president on trial.

The piece was commissioned by the Arlekin Players Theatre, the Boston-based company created in 2009 for immigrant actors from the former Soviet Union. Arlekin founder Igor Golyak steered his company through a radical reinvention during the pandemic, creating the Zero Gravity (zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab, an interactive approach that attracted attention around the globe. “The Gaaga” runs for 14 performances, the last eight of which will also be available to stream.

Beat Brew Hall closed during the pandemic. Through an arrangement brokered by the Harvard Square Business Association, Arlekin has temporarily taken over the underground location, transforming it into a hallucinatory bunker. Designer Irina Kruzhilina has built a barricade of chairs and bales of cardboard. Rocking horses, old furniture, and a clawfoot bathtub occupy the back room where the play takes place.

Denisova arrived in Boston about six weeks ago, having fled Moscow for Poland after the war began. She’s a revered playwright in Russia, a Golden Mask Award winner — the Russian equivalent of the Tonys — who studied at the Royal Court Theatre and graduated from the Moscow Art Theatre School.

“My hate towards the government right now doesn’t allow me to have any contact with those institutions,” she says, with some translation help from Kruzhilina.

Her elderly mother, with whom she is in contact every day, has refused to leave her home in Kyiv. Denisova’s next play, “My Mama and the Full-Scale Invasion,” premieres in January at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.

With her dark eye shadow and severe bangs, Denisova resembles a Slavic Chrissie Hynde. One of the hardest things to get used to in America, she jokes, is the fact that everyone answers the banal question “How are you doing?” the same way: “Great!”

“Everyone is kind and happy,” she says. “I’m the only one who is grumpy.”

“She’s incredible, very different,” says Golyak. “She brings a style I really love and try to do in my work — a kind of fantastic realism.”

Playwright-director Sasha Denisova (right), shown at a rehearsal for "The Gaaga" at Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square. Anne Gottlieb (left) plays The Prosecutor and Taya Fedorenko (center) portrays The Girl.
Playwright-director Sasha Denisova (right), shown at a rehearsal for “The Gaaga” at Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square. Anne Gottlieb (left) plays The Prosecutor and Taya Fedorenko (center) portrays The Girl. PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

Golyak, a frequent nominee for Boston’s Elliot Norton Awards, arrived in Brookline as a Jewish refugee 20 years ago. His hybrid production of “The Orchard,” which starred Jessica Hecht and Mikhail Baryshnikov (as Anton Chekhov), was widely recognized as an ingenious theatrical response to the pandemic restrictions on social gathering.

Audiences who engage with the virtual version of “The Gaaga” will have options to create their own perspectives and to participate as jurors in Putin’s trial. According to producer Sara Stackhouse, Golyak and his team are experimenting with advanced technologies used in sports broadcasting and video gaming but have been previously untried in the theater.

“We’re trying to figure out what is a virtual production,” Golyak explains. “It means so many things and nothing at the same time. In terms of innovation, how do you navigate a two-dimensional screen from anywhere in the world, and make it different than Netflix?”

In addition to the Arlekin regulars among the cast of 18 for “The Gaaga,” Norton Award winners Anne Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton have signed on, as has Actors’ Shakespeare Project founding member and former Gloucester Stage Company artistic director Robert Walsh. For Gottlieb and Pemberton, who have been active (along with the rest of the cast and crew) in providing aid for displaced Ukrainian families, the opportunity to help spread awareness about the war through art is deeply meaningful.

“I feel super passionate about this piece,” says Gottlieb during a break in rehearsal. “It’s a kind of protest, an artistic protest.”

“The Gaaga” incorporates elements of documentary theater, borrowing from the real-life words of Ukrainian children who have posted their despair online. Denisova’s bitter sense of humor, notes Gottlieb, is part of a long tradition: “I mean, Chaplin did it with Hitler.

“If you feel something through art, you feel more connected. And there’s a greater chance, through the heart, that you’ll do something.”

Beyond the humanitarian ramifications, Gottlieb has another reason for her enthusiasm about “The Gaaga.” Its overt references to the psychoactive aspects of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” harken back to the first role she ever took on, when she played Alice in a school production as a 9-year-old.

“The Putin posse in this play is a Mad Hatter’s tea party,” she hints with a smile.

The lead character of The Girl is played by Taisiia “Taya” Fedorenko, a tall 17-year-old from Kyiv who has been staying in Connecticut since the beginning of the war. In the fall she will begin her college life at the New School in Manhattan, “near the Ukrainian Village,” as she points out.

She’s a big fan of Tim Burton’s 2010 film version of “Alice in Wonderland,” which starred Mia Wasikowska as Alice. After her audition, Denisova told her she got the part “because you look like her.”

The outpouring of support for Ukraine in America initially took the young refugee by surprise, she admits: “I didn’t expect people to care.”

Golyak says he has heard Denisova say she will never go back to Russia. Like her, he has older family members who were unable to or didn’t want to leave their Ukrainian homeland. Others have fled to Germany and Poland.

“It’s a medieval practice to make fun of your enemy,” he says. “It’s almost the best way to get back at them.”

In America, he says, “the news gets here, but it doesn’t feel as present as it does in Europe. There, it’s a clear and present danger.”

For the next few weeks, an abandoned restaurant in Harvard Square will provide a refuge.


At Beat Brew Hall, 13 Brattle St., Cambridge. June 2-18. Tickets $37-$56. Streaming performance available June 8-18. Tickets $28. Presented by Arlekin Players Theatre.


Cambridge street food fest honors PH cuisine, heritage

Students and residents of Harvard Square got a taste of Filipino food during the Asian Street Food Festival.

Locals lined up for a bite of the flavorful Filipino barbecue, while others tried Filipino desserts made of the Philippine purple yam or ube.

Aside from the food, Filipino culture and traditions were also on display on stage.

“It’s really amazing that we’re able to celebrate it right here in Harvard Square where it’s composed of a lot of diverse people,” said Kiwi Polido, organizer of the event.

Senen Mangalile, the Philippine consul general in New York, said the event showcases the richness of the Filipino heritage.

“By listening to our music and watching our performances, we hope that you will gain a better understanding of Philippines culture,” he said. “Such an understanding can hopefully lead to greater harmony among all of us who live in the same society.”

Members of the Harvard Square Philippine-American Alliance are getting ready for their second festival at the same venue come October 8 to mark the Filipino-American History Month.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of people from the Philippines again,” Polido added, “from different parts of the country, not just in Boston. We have people from New York and they have people from California, just everyone coming here together, enjoying Filipino culture.”

Boston Globe

A celebratory last blast brings Boston Calling to a close

It doesn’t get much more Boston than peeing on the John Harvard statue.

At Boston Calling on Sunday evening, on the grounds of Harvard’s athletic complex, the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser recalled a brief tale of band members once taking part in the bizarre Crimson ritual. True to its namesake, the last day of this year’s festival repped all of the Boston things, from sarcasm to loyalty, Sam to Dunks, provincialism to the Hub of the Universe.

The Linda Lindas, the punk grrrls from LA, were introduced by a fangirl named…

NBC Boston

Boston Calling Guide: Who’s Playing, Getting There, What to Eat and More

Boston’s biggest music festival is back and the sun is expected to shine down on it all weekend.

For three days Memorial Day weekend, major music acts and local artists alike will descend on the Harvard Athletic Complex for Boston Calling, along with thousands of fans.

From the Foo Fighters to Paramore, this year has quite the lineup. And between acts, there will be a smorgasbord of food options.

Here’s what to know:

What’s the latest music lineup?

Taylor Swift may have left the Boston area, but other big stars are here — though one big act had to pull out at the last minute.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs dropped out of the lineup for Friday, citing an illness, but local legends the Dropkick Murphys stepped up to replace them — presumably, they don’t need to go too far to ship up to Boston Calling.

Here’s the full lineup, with headliners in bold (which you can also see in interactive form on the Boston Calling website and apps):

1:45 p.m.: Alisa Amador / Happy Valley Red Stage
2:15 p.m.: Zolita / Blue Stage
2:20 p.m.: Razor Braids / Green Stage
2:50 p.m.: Brandie Blaze / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
3 p.m.: Celisse / Happy Valley Red Stage
3:20 p.m.: GA-20 / Blue Stage
3:55 p.m.: The Beaches / Green Stage
4:05 p.m.: Summer Cult / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
4:35 p.m.: TALK / Blue Stage
4:45 p.m.: Chelsea Cutler / Happy Valley Red Stage
5:20 p.m.: Blue Light Bandits / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
5:50 p.m.: Teddy Swims / Blue Stage
5:55 p.m.: Dropkick Murphys / Green Stage
6:55 p.m.: Little Fuss / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
7:05 p.m.: The National / Happy Valley Red Stage
7:40 p.m.: Niall Horan / Blue Stage
8:40 p.m.: Foo Fighters / Green Stage

1:45 p.m.: Neemz / Happy Valley Red Stage
2:20 p.m.: Loveless / Green Stage
2:20 p.m.: The Q-Tip Bandits / Blue Stage
2:55 p.m.: chrysalis / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
3 p.m.: The Aces / Happy Valley Red Stage
3:25 p.m.: Welshly Arms / Blue Stage
3:55 p.m.: Joy Oladokun / Green Stage
4:05 p.m.: Coral Moons / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
4:35 p.m.: Declan McKenna / Blue Stage
4:55 p.m.: Mt. Joy / Happy Valley Red Stage
5:20 p.m.: Actor Observer / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
5:50 p.m.: Fletcher / Blue Stage
6:05 p.m.: Noah Kahan / Green Stage
6:55 p.m.: Najee Janey / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
7:15 p.m.: Alanis Morissette / Happy Valley Red Stage
7:35 p.m.: The Flaming Lips performing ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ / Blue Stage
9 p.m.: The Lumineers / Green Stage

1:45 p.m.: Juice / Happy Valley Red Stage
2:20 p.m.: Mint Green / Blue Stage
2:25 p.m.: Wunderhorse / Green Stage
3 p.m.: The Linda Lindas / Happy Valley Red Stage
3:05 p.m.: Workman Song / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
3:45 p.m.: Brutus / Blue Stage
4 p.m.: 070 Shake / Green Stage
4:30 p.m.: Sorry Mom / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
5:05 p.m.: Bleachers / Happy Valley Red Stage
5:05 p.m.: Genesis Owusu / Blue Stage
5:55 p.m.: Ali McGuirk / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
6:15 p.m.: Maren Morris / Green Stage
6:40 p.m.: The Walkmen / Blue Stage
7:25 p.m.: Queens of the Stone Age / Happy Valley Red Stage
7:40 p.m.: Couch / Tivoli Audio Orange Stage
8:30 p.m.: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard / Blue Stage
9 p.m.: Paramore / Green Stage

The Crimson

Pass the Pita: Cava Makes Harvard Square Debut

Cava opened its newest location Friday morning on Brattle Street, bringing a Mediterranean-themed fast-casual option to Harvard Square.

Prior to the grand opening, Cava held a fundraiser in partnership with Project Bread, a food assistance nonprofit based in Massachusetts. Their Thursday event — which sold out on Eventbrite — allowed attendees to receive a free meal of their choice, and encouraged donations for Project Bread. Cava matched donations up to $1,000.

Cava’s “Community Day” is a companywide opening tradition that has raised more than $350,000 in the past four years. The donations often focus on ensuring food security in the surrounding communities.

Christian Starkes, Cava’s Northeast Regional Leader, wrote in a statement that the company “couldn’t be more excited” about the new Harvard Square location and stressed Cava’s ethos of generosity.

“Our mission is to bring heart, health, and humanity to food, and everything we do at CAVA is grounded in that spirit of generosity, to our guests, our team members, and our community,” he wrote.

Both Cambridge residents and tourists expressed excitement about the new location.

Shubhanshi N. Gaudani said while she hasn’t tried the food at Cava yet, she appreciated the ambience of the restaurant and the variety of food available.

“The building looks cool because of the glass windows,” she said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cute, a lot of sunlight,’ and it’s a nice color palette in terms of food, so, yeah, I like the options too.”

Kendall B. Clark, who was visiting from Chicago along with Gaudani, echoed her sentiments about the building’s decor, and added that she was happy with Cava’s vegetarian options.

“Like Shubhansi said, it’s really cute in here, very aesthetically pleasing. And I like the food, generally — we’re both vegetarian so I was like, okay, yeah, this is a good place that’s gonna have options for us.”

Cameron Seamans said Cava is a good option for after the gym, when he might want “something quick.”

Cambridge resident Angelina Z. Wang said she used to visit a Cava location near Boston University when she was a student there and was happy to have a new location in the area.

“I used to go when I was in school, but there aren’t any Cavas around here really except for this one, so it’s nice to have something.”

Biz Journals

Boston Calling expected to be a boon for businesses across the river in Harvard Square

housands of people are expected to descend on Allston for the Boston Calling concert festival Memorial Day weekend, and for many businesses just across the river in Harvard Square, the festival will provide a boost.

The festival, held in Harvard University’s athletics complex in Lower Allston, is less than a mile away from the Red Line’s Harvard stop, the nearest MBTA station.

For Harvard Square businesses, the concert has become a capstone on an especially busy month, which already includes the annual Mayfair early in the month and Harvard’s commencement ceremonies.

That’s welcome news to Harvard Square retailers, which, like counterparts practically everywhere, have had to struggle through the pandemic and the loss of — especially for Harvard Square — students and international visitors.

A new annual highlight

For Harvard Square businesses, Boston Calling has become a prominent item on the calendar along with Mayfair, Oktoberfest and Head of the Charles, said Denise Jillson, Executive Director, Harvard Square Business Association. Boston Calling began a decade ago at City Hall Plaza and moved to Allston in 2017.

“They’ve added Boston Calling to that period of time when they make sure they have plenty of inventory and plenty of staff,” Jillson said of Harvard Square businesses.

Two aspects have worked in Harvard Square’s favor: the festival gives out wristbands that allow concertgoers to come and go throughout the day, and the location makes a walk from the Red Line the best bet for many people arriving.

“It’s a wonderful option for people who don’t necessarily want to be in the festival from beginning to end,” Jillson said.

Harvard Square is less reliant on office workers for foot traffic than neighborhoods like downtown Boston, and summer tourists make the square busier than it might normally be when Harvard’s between school years. The neighborhood’s retailers also hung on through the pandemic thanks in part to how many are independent, and therefore able to quickly make decisions on when to reopen or how.

“I’m not saying they’re not struggling. Everyone is struggling,” Jillson said. “But they’re hanging on.”

Other retailers are regularly opening, she added, giving a sense of optimism in the ever-changing neighborhood.

Retailers and restaurants were just starting to loosen or eliminate the last pandemic restrictions during Boston Calling a year ago, with this year’s festival offering a chance to look back on having made it through a harsh period for retailers.

The visibility effect

The wide range of time where people will be coming and going — over the festival’s three days — is critical, retailers said. In some cases, like restaurants, the benefit is immediate. In other cases, retailers enjoy a bump in visibility that helps them out down the road.

“The great thing about Boston Calling is everyone has their own plan,” said Patrick Lee, the owner of sibling restaurants Grafton Street and Russell House Tavern on John F. Kennedy Street and Hourly Oyster House the next street over on Dunster Street.

“Some people are coming later, some want to be there at the beginning and some leave and come back,” he said.

For Grafton Street, that’s helped some people discover or remember that the restaurant moved early last year from elsewhere in Harvard Square. For Forty Winks on JFK Street, the fact that it’s along the most direct route Boston Calling patrons take between the T and the concert venue can provide a boost.

Few are shopping for lingerie and sleepwear on their way to or from the concert, Forty Winks co-founder Rachel Wentworth said, but all the foot traffic can serve like great free advertising.

“People see us for the first time or they’re reminded of us,” Wentworth said. “We’ve heard people say, ‘There’s that store I’ve been meaning to go into.’”

It’s a similar story at Black Sheep Bagel Cafe, which shares a building with Forty Winks. Customers will often mention they didn’t realize that was where the cafe was located or ask about how long it’s been there, owner Shoshanah Ramirez said

The festival’s first acts go on at 1:45 p.m., also making the cafe a good stop for those looking for something to eat before heading in to catch early performances.

“At one point, we were the only place in Harvard Square to get a cup of coffee, so a lot of people discovered us that way,” said Ramirez, who opened Black Sheep Bagel Cafe five years ago with her husband, Manny.

NBC Boston

Boston Calling a Boon for Businesses in Harvard Square

Thousands of people are expected to descend on Allston for the Boston Calling concert festival Memorial Day weekend, and for many businesses just across the river in Harvard Square, the festival will provide a boost.

The festival, held in Harvard University’s athletics complex in Lower Allston, is less than a mile away from the Red Line’s Harvard stop, the nearest MBTA station.

For Harvard Square businesses, the concert has become a capstone on an especially busy month, which already includes the annual Mayfair early in the month and Harvard’s commencement ceremonies.