Gown Feeds Town

Harvard paves the way for a new market.

Harvard University owns 30 storefronts in Harvard Square, and almost all are leased to independent businesses. But this winter, when a new grocer opens at the corner of Brattle and Church streets, Harvard will have exerted an unusual influence over the area—by acting as landlord in someone else’s building.

While the school may have a bad rep for gobbling up and controlling land, the market is a welcome thing: People there have been clamoring for one since the 102-year-old Sage’s Market closed in 2000, only to be replaced by a Sprint PCS store. After Sprint left in 2005, Harvard worried the space again would be snatched up by a chain. So it leased it, paying rent on the vacant storefront while searching for a market to sublease to. New Haven grocer (and Tufts grad) Peter Whang signed on in June, and plans to open shop soon.

Harvard Real Estate Services’ Jim Gray calls the effort a “surgical opportunity,” and something the school has no plans to repeat. But he adds it reflects Harvard’s larger effort to keep what was once a countercultural epicenter from succumbing to chronic chain-itis.