Friday, June 14, 2024

The Porter Square churn continues. The arrival of Radio Shack several weeks ago (rolling of eyes) seemed to signal the end of Photo Star Developing and Passport Photos and the Cambridge Savings Bank processing facility (shrugging of shoulders).

Although there was an automated teller at the bank office, neither site drew customers with the regularity of, oh, your average broken telephone booth. The bank because no customer business was transacted there and Photo Star, no doubt, because digital cameras made it obsolete. It’s particularly tragic that I had never been there, nor ever had a reason to, and cannot say with the slightest certainty when it shut down. It is the vacancy left by the quiet man two floors below whom you saw in the elevator every week or so and never spoke to. When did he disappear? No one knows. He is survived by a 37-year-old nephew who cannot attend the services.

But who gets his office, right? Photo Star is advertised as “store for rent” and the bank as “retail space for lease,” and both are a little bit of a puzzle.

While the Photo Star site is good for pretty much anything, in this case “anything” includes “disaster.” It is behind a tree that has more claim to being 2032 Massachusetts Ave. than does the store, which is — not to be repetitive — subtle to the point of anonymity. I have the creeping, awful feeling that Porter Square’s trend of attracting the most disappointing services will continue, and soon it will be host to a Hummel figurine shop, a Thomas Kinkade knockoff gallery or, ye gods, a vacuum repair shop. Although first it’ll be empty for a year.

The bank is just as much a riddle, but one more pleasant to think about. It’s a handsome building — a true edifice, built for the eons, with “North Avenue Savings Bank” etched into it (a name lost in a merger with Cambridge Savings Bank in 1971) and its own respectable wraparound parking lot. Nice. But retail? What kind of retail fits best in a bank building? Hello Kitty? Or (please, God, no) a cell phone store?

More office space would be the best fit, really, as much as Porter Square needs something wonderful, but failing offices a restaurant, believe it or not, would be a nice addition. Not that the North Avenue Savings Bank people should have had the foresight to install a grill, but Arlington’s Flora (it has been pointed out to me) is in the old Greek revival Arlington Five Cents Savings Bank building. Another such evolution is featured in today’s New York Times business section, about a Home Savings Bank in White Plains, N.Y., that is becoming Zanaro’s Italian Restaurant. The name screams quality, I know. And it’s owned by the same company that franchises Applebee’s. But $3 million has been spent on it, so … hope springs eternal.

Does hope spring eternal in Porter Square?

Maybe the guys down at Radio Shack know.