Friday, June 14, 2024

Salt & Olive moved into a former Starbucks space in Harvard Square. (Photo: Salt & Olive Market via Instagram)

For those watching the exodus of longtime and often beloved businesses from Harvard Square, Salt & Olive Market provides the rare counterexample of an independent shop moving in.

The small specialty store – specializing in olive oils, balsamic vinegars and sea salts from around the world – gets a grand opening Saturday in Harvard Square’s Garage mall, 36 JFK St., where it fills a large space left empty by the Feb. 22 departure of a Starbucks. Founder Mary Taylor said she’s using the extra room to add more locally made goods.

“We are going to be carrying more specialty foods from local vendors – charcuterie, cheeses, beers, pasta,” Taylor said.

Salt & Olive Market offers samples of oils and vinegars from taps. (Photo: Salt & Olive Market via Facebook)

That includes Deano’s Pasta of Somerville and sweets from Somerville Chocolate, Magic Bites Market pastry out of Arlington and goods from Sophia’s Greek Pantry of Belmont, among others, she said.

It’s a small sign of hope in a square that has ejected Cafe Algiers and Cafe Crema despite long-empty neighboring storefronts, seen shops such as Tess and Tealuxe leave to make way for construction and is still wincing from news that The World’s Only Curious George Store bookstore and toy shop will be leaving despite a unique arrangement from Regency Centers to keep the iconic retailer and the good will it signifies.

Central Square is a draw

After news last week it would relocate to an unknown location in Central Square, an update Tuesday from the Boston Business Journal revealed that Curious George would first be sold by owner Adam Hirsch to Astra Titus, a childhood literacy consultant who plans to run the store remotely from upstate New York with visits to Cambridge. She wants the store to be a “hangout” for neighborhood mothers similar to the Blue Bunny store in Dedham, according to the Journal, which Titus said she would accomplish with the help of investors.

With the crowdfunded coming of The Faraway restaurant to the former River Gods space and a potential plant-based brew hall activating a long-empty space on Prospect Street, a business improvement district all but certain to hit the ground running in July and retailers such as Titus deeming it the superior location, Central Square is gaining momentum as a destination for Cantabrigians; as real estate turns over or owners simply cash in, residents say they perceive Harvard Square’s business environment as increasingly uninviting. The future, complicated by years of construction on multiple sites, looks to get worse: After nearly 50 years, the owners of Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage expect to be priced out of the square; Flat Patties told Scout Magazine’s Reena Karasin that it will likely close this year with an expected rent hike.

There are remnants of an older Harvard Square, slightly farther from the turmoil – Cafe Pamplona and Charlie’s Kitchen, the Leavitt & Peirce tobacconist, The Brattle Theatre, Grolier Poetry Book Store and Harvard Book Store – but Taylor’s shop, transitioning from “Salt & Olive Specialty Foods” to the “Salt & Olive Market,” stands out as a rare opening that isn’t an out-of-town chain or a bank.

Food and events

Taylor opened Salt & Olive five years ago at 1160 Massachusetts Ave. offering more than 50 varieties of olive oil from a tap (and more balsamic vinegars), with customers invited to sample before buying. Salt & Olive Market adds events, lectures and cooking classes that cover topics such as creative food pairings and how to cook with olive oils and vinegars, she said.

Though the new store soft-opened April 13, the grand opening Saturday will bring in local vendors Red Apple Farm, Magic Bites, Clear Flour Bread and Somerville Chocolate to offer free samples. (A mural by Harvard alum muralist David Fichter, based on the Italian adage “those around a table never grow old,” will be unveiled in June.)

Hours of operation are Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.

This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.