Friday, June 14, 2024

Central Square’s Clear Conscience Cafe will be closing at the end of August, along with the Harvest Co-op grocery store behind it. (Photo: Jenn Mau)

Central Square’s iconic Harvest Co-op grocery store and the Clear Conscience Cafe at its front will be closing at the end of August, but only the grocery store knows its future: moving across the street to the former Jax Liquidation Outlet space, which is a little over half the grocer’s current size.

Daniel Goldstein, who made his Clear Conscience Cafe the meeting place for an ad hoc Central Square improvement committee and himself a champion for that improvement, isn’t sure where he’ll go.

“There’s a lack of clarity about what will happen. We will step out to a different space, go on hiatus, I don’t really know how to answer it,” Goldstein said. “I became enamored with this community. I always tell friends, there’s no other place in Massachusetts that has that kind of energy, a sense of being pulled together. If I were in Greenwich Village, I’d have the same sense — it’s eclectic, alive, in motion, with a full spectrum of the social fabric that makes the place amazing.”

Goldstein opened the cafe in 2007, a refugee from 10 years in the financial services industry who went a different path, of of organic soups, salads, breads and sandwiches, shade-grown and fairly traded coffee and free Wi-Fi. The cozy, earth-toned space is crowded from opening to closing with people ducking out for some peace from the buzz of Central Square. (The Eater website noted that Goldstein’s other venture, Rafiki Bistro, closed Saturday after being open since 2010 at 1682 Massachusetts Ave. Customers were advised to “Look for an exciting new restaurant in the fall!”)

The moves are a result of rising rents that made a new lease impossible, he said. The leaser is Morris Naggar’s 3MJ Realty, of Central Square. It’s not known what the current 581 Massachusetts Ave. space will become; a message was left at 3MJ’s offices Friday morning.

Goldstein is philosophical about the changes, noting the massive developments going on nearby and citing last week’s $40 million purchase of 625 Massachusetts Ave., which holds such tenants as Boston Sports Club, Harmonix Music System, Harvard University, TD Bank and Walgreens, by The Samuels Property Group. “The value proposition of real estate changes … and there may be some casualties along the way,” Goldstein said. “I’m one of them, unfortunately.”

Chris Durkin, director of membership and community relations at Harvest Co-op Markets, is able to take a sunnier view for the grocer, its 4,000-plus members and those who rely on it for food and other staples: When it re-opens in September, it’ll be smaller but just upstairs from where it was it was founded in 1974 — the basement of the art store at 580 Massachusetts Ave. What gets lost when it shrinks to half its current size isn’t known. “That’s up in the air right now,” he said.

“Things that could be lost with Harvest’s move are the farmers market and all the CSAs that used the Harvest parking lot. That includes the new Cape Cod Fish Share community-supported fishery that will be bringing me fresh-caught lobster tomorrow,” resident Monica Velgoas said. “After all the committee meetings and all the Central Square discussions for a couple years now, how could such change just sweep in without warning?”

Naggar’s 3MJ Realty is listed as a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee, but the changes at 581 Massachusetts Ave. were not publicized or discussed there, according to members and a city official.

Update: Naggar assured The Cambridge Chronicle that the co-op’s move did not result from a rent increase. While the co-op’s Mike St. Clair did not answer a message left seeking clarification, the president of the co-op’s board of directors, Christina Lively
, said in a letter to members that the landlord “offered us substantial financial assistance to relocate. We are very thankful for the extension and relocation assistance, as well as for our long good-standing relationship with the landlord of over 20 years.” A co-op meeting is planned for 6 p.m. in the YMCA Theatre, 820 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.

Information about Rafiki Bistro closing was added May 30, 2012.

Follow-up story: Realtor hopes to replace Harvest with larger grocery store, without “direct competition”