Cambridge is a city of 101,587 people, but it can feel like the smallest town in the world. Tonight, for instance, the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee will meet for two hours mainly on the “discussion of requested variance to replace Gas With a Smile with a Hess station and convenience store,” which follows the hour or so of discussion on the topic June 16 by the Porter Square Neighbors Association and precedes the Board of Zoning Appeals tackling the subject tomorrow.
With the gas station owner’s retirement and sale to Hess, auto repairs will be replaced by the minimart, which the 1,660-site chain wanted to be (as with gas sales) a 24-hour, seven-day operation. None of this excited the neighbors, and the “garish” design of the station put more teeth on edge. But what really blew it for the Hess crowd was their rejection, and ignorance, of Zipcar.
The Hess station will have 13 parking spaces; none were intended to be rented for Zipcars.
This local car-sharing business says it has about 40,000 members, people who can’t justify buying a car when there are Zipcars scattered around for use by the hour or day. The company also says it’s profitable, even announcing Monday that it secured $10 million in venture capital to expand to the West Coast. Its cars at Gas With a Smile, a utilitarian gray Jetta and boxy white Scion B, seem as popular as the company. On June 16 they prompted a barrage of questions that had the Hess team staggering like a boxer blinded by blood streaming from a cut on his forehead. Not only did the executives, architects, lawyers and engineers not see the blow coming; they were forced to suddenly realize they’d risked their entire attack. When a Hess exec admitted he didn’t know what Zipcar was or how it worked, the entire assembled association stiffened into a baleful silence. The statement just hung there.
Finally, Simon Shapiro, of Tag’s Hardware, suggested gently that “I think you need to learn more about blending in with Cambridge.”
We’ll see what’s been learned tonight at 7 at the North Cambridge Senior Center, 2050 Massachusetts Ave. A Gas With a Smile worker said today that the Zipcar spaces will stay when Hess takes over; a representative at Zipcar’s Cambridge headquarters, however, knew nothing about it.
“They haven’t mentioned anything to us yet. It wasn’t even our understanding Hess was buying the station,” she said. “As of now, those pods are pretty secure.”