Crimson Corner: Newsstand without news after its relocation within Harvard Square
Crimson Corner moved Monday, two blocks and two corners up Brattle Street, having lost its lease in favor of up-and-coming &pizza – but it left some things behind.
Years ago it was Nini’s Corner, opened by Joseph Nini in 1962. Its Massachusetts Avenue spot was prime Harvard Square, visible to Red Line commuters and on the way to Harvard Yard.
Previously the front of the store was covered in magazine racks. Now there are no magazines in the store at all. The walls are lined with Harvard sweatshirts, mugs and novelty items. Cigarettes are behind the register. Wednesday morning, it was doing a brisk business in lottery tickets.
Newspapers? On Monday afternoon, there was one small rack in the far, far back corner of the store, stuffed with seven titles. By Wednesday it had moved a few feet forward, now sandwiched between a Coca-Cola fridge and a rack of eyeglasses, still in the back of the store. But a handful of New York Times and Boston Globe papers sat outside the store on milk crates.
Nini’s grandson Chris Kotelly owns it now. Asked what distinguishes the store from the Coop and others selling Harvard-branded merchandise, he said it was a “hard decision,” and that he had much less space outside the front of the store.
“I have to talk to the city, I don’t know,” Kotelly said. “I want to put them outside.”
“They have a sidewalk commission group, and then they have the permitting and the Department of Public Works. … At best, if I can put them outside, there’s a little on each side, but magazines I couldn’t fit in,” he said. “If I’m going to keep magazines, do I keep women and fashion? And the tabloids? Or do I keep the business and the monthlies – the Atlantics and the Harpers of the world?”
“Magazines could come back, I just don’t know how that’s going to fit. So I don’t want to give the impression that they are coming back, because they’re not right now.”
Harvard Square advocates were skeptical.
“We have one more Harvard brand item schlock store in Harvard Square now,” said Suzanne Blier, a Harvard architectural historian who has been fighting to preserve the square and recently founded the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association. “Who needs it except the occasional tourist?”
Crimson Corner has a four-year lease in its new location, at 35 Brattle. The food chain &pizza wants to move in to the newsstand’s old home, consolidating with the next-door space of the former Tory Row restaurant, but it faces a permitting battle to get a fast food permit. It will have to make the case that there is a need for its service in the neighborhood, a difficult standard; Blier’s group says it would be the 17th pizza eatery.
The Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on &pizza is April 27. Before that, the city’s Harvard Square Advisory Committee will meet April 19 to provide an advisory recommendation. Although &pizza originally proposed an outdoor trellis that would have required approval from the Cambridge Historical Commission (which roundly rejected it at a public hearing), the company has scaled back its plans and now proposes an awning and signs that do not require a public hearing.
With Cambridge gearing up for a public process to decide the future use of the city-owned Out of Town News kiosk in the center of Harvard Square, Blier said “going forward that we really need to keep newspapers and journals as part of the potential future mix.”
And Crimson Corner? No magazines, few newspapers, and it’s not on a corner anymore.