Starbucks is gone for now from Harvard Square, but other shops are still pouring plenty of coffee
The closing of Harvard Square’s prominent, two-story Starbucks on Nov. 21 took many by surprise, especially since it leaves the square lacking any of the franchises after once having three. But the chain’s absence is is likely to be short-lived, and gives visitors a chance to discover other locations for coffee, snacks, first dates, late-night check-ins and, eventually, the study binges that filled the second-story tables at 1380 Massachusetts Ave.
There are many alternatives offered by experts such as Theodora Skeadas, executive director of the small-business organization Cambridge Local First, and Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association – but Jillson suspects it won’t be long until Starbucks is back.
“It’s my understanding that they’ll be reopening in The Abbot building,” Jillson said Monday. The Abbot, a four-story block of retail, offices and restaurants, is expected to open early next year just around the corner from where Starbucks ran out its lease with too much space for a pandemic – or, Jillson believes, for its bottom line. When Starbucks returns, she guesses it will be smaller.
“It was wonderful and generous of Starbucks to provide that second story. It was lovely, and a great community amenity. I can’t imagine that it was a profitable endeavor for them,” Jillson speculated. “It never particularly seemed to work for Starbucks. It tried a lot of different things – bringing the coffee bar upstairs and having the specialty coffees and all of that – but, you know, it’s an awful lot of space to just allow people to come in and get one cup of coffee and sit all day using the Wi-Fi.”
The pandemic may also have changed Starbucks’ calculations about what customers will want. “It was very special to have that space,” Jillson said, but the expense may look different after “22 months or so of not being able to use it.”
Still, as a global chain – 33,833 locations, 15,444 of them within the United States – Starbucks had resources to hang on in Harvard Square while small, locally owned coffee shops disappeared.
“So many of our beloved local cafés have left,” Skeadas said, noting the loss of Cafe Pamplona, which dated back to 1958, Cafe Algiers, Cafe Crema, “which was so popular that literally thousands of people all over the world protested its forced closure,” and Tealuxe.
Some “stubborn local cafes” remain in Harvard Square, Skeadas said, highlighting three:
- Darwin’s Ltd. (148 Mount Auburn St.): The first location of a four-store Cambridge chain and a cozy cafe with sandwiches, drinks and cookies. (“Vegetarians should try The Rindge with extra mustard,” Skeadas suggested.) House coffee or a single-origin brew starts at $2.80; the coffee menu is capped at a Kyoto cold brew for $5.50. There are also 10 teas, four iced teas and four tea lattes.
- Flour Bakery (114 Mount Auburn St.): With a few locations in Cambridge and Boston, Flour “offers some of the best desserts in town,” Skeadas said. Owner and chef Joanne Chang gained enough celebrity with them to have recently joined “Baking Impossible” on Netflix as a judge of baking and engineering challenges. A coffee, cortado or espresso costs $3.25, and there’s a range of other drinks including a seasonal mulled apple cider ($3.50) and white chocolate mocha ($4.50).
- Black Sheep Bagel Cafe (56 JFK St.): Sweet and savory bagels, coffee and tea. Prices start at $2.25 for a house blend drip coffee and go up to $4.25 for an iced chai latte.
Skeadas’ list excludes Peet’s Coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee, Tatte Bakery & Cafe (1288 Massachusetts Ave.) and Bluestone Lane (27 Brattle St.) because they are “technically not locally- and independently owned” – Tatte because Panera Bread’s founder bought into Tzurit Or’s small chain in 2016. But coffee-driven Peet’s (100 Mount Auburn St., on Winthrop Square) and Blue Bottle (40 Bow St.) may fulfill a Starbucks lover’s needs even better than the cafes that list sandwiches, baked goods and bagels ahead of drinks on their menus.
The exclusions also appear on Jillson’s broader list of businesses that can easily pick up where Starbucks left off, especially in a time many orders are to-go. Jillson adds: Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe (6 Brattle St.), which includes a deli counter; L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates (52 Brattle St.), a decadent treat; Pavement Coffeehouse and Blackbird Doughnuts (both inside the Smith Campus Center, 1350 Massachusetts Ave., but both closing most days at 4 p.m.); the Capital One Café (24 JFK St.), still the only bank in Cambridge making the effort to enliven a financial storefront with a community good – in this case Peet’s coffee and tea, and baked goods. In a pinch, Jillson said, people needing coffee can even look to El Jefe’s Taqueria (83 Mount Auburn St.), which is open until 3:45 a.m. and has $2 hot coffee and tea and $2.50 iced coffee and Mexican hot chocolate.
“And of course you can always get Dunkin’, of which there are three,” Jillson said – inside the Harvard Square T stop; at 61 Church St., near the recently closed Dado Tea location; and lightly disguised as the Eliot Street Café at 65 JFK St.