Two more small businesses in Harvard Square bite the dust...

Salt & Olive Market announces it is closing, returning Harvard Square space to vacancy

Posted on January 16, 2020 by 

By Marc Levy of the Cambridge Day
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Only eight months after expanding into a new location in Harvard Square, Salt & Olive Market is closing – returning key retail space to emptiness just a year after Starbucks left.

“It’s with sadness, but with hope for the future, that we share Salt & Olive will close its doors by the end of February. The reasons are myriad, but led by the need to focus on family,” founders Mary Taylor and Lee Phenner said on Facebook on Wednesday. “We move ahead with wonderful memories, and the belief that Salt & Olive created a delicious experience for the past six years.”

While family health issues were the biggest factor in the closing, “being a small retailer in the age of Amazon and with what’s happening in Harvard Square is not easy,” Taylor said Wednesday.

The seller of olive oils, vinegars, salts and spices opened in September 2014 down the road from Harvard Square, and in May had a grand opening in Harvard Square’s Garage mall, filling a large space left empty by the Feb. 22 departure of a Starbucks with a growing assortment of specialty foods from local vendors including charcuterie, cheeses, beers, pasta. Along with more than 50 varieties of olive oil from a tap (and more balsamic vinegars) 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. The store also sold coffee, continuing a history from several years of Starbucks occupying the space – and before that, a Coffee Connection – though it may not have been widely known.

“She did as much as she possibly could in terms of holding events. People are just ordering way too much online,” said Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association. “Foot traffic is an issue. We need more of it.”

It was a small sign of hope in a square that has ejected Cafe Algiers and Cafe Crema despite long-empty neighboring storefronts and seen shops such as Tealuxe and The World’s Only Curious George Store bookstore and toy shop close or move – much of it the result of years of expected construction to be followed by inevitably soaring rents. Jillson noted various openings coming along in the coming months, and said  Harvard Square has survived long bouts of construction before; the business association’s Instagram account links to an image circa 1981 that showed some particularly disruptive work.

“After you look at that picture,” Jillson said, work being done by Regency Centers in the heart of the square is “eh, not so bad.”

It was not known what would happen to the Salt & Olive Market space next, Jillson said. The Garage mall is run by Trinity Property Management, owned by business association president John DiGiovanni.

“We’ll be forever grateful for your support, and for doing something that we loved in the wonderful city of Cambridge. Please stop in and help us clear out inventory,” the founders said on Facebook.

Taylor said when the doors close for the final time will depend on how long it takes to empty store shelves. She does not expect to keep running the business in any form, such as online.

“It’s been a beautiful six years,” Taylor said Wednesday.


Grilled pizza restaurant Cambridge, 1. closes, new blow to struggling Church Street scene

Posted on January 12, 2020 by 

By Marc Levy, Thursday, December 26, 2019 in the Cambridge Day

Harvard Square lost another modern classic this month with the closing of the charcoal-grilled pizza restaurant Cambridge, 1. While owners didn’t give a specific reason for taking action now, one factor got a call-out: the closing of the Loews movie theater some seven years ago.

“The sales by year were typical of any restaurant’s lifecycle, but the closing of the cinema on Church Street did have a noticeable impact,” said Matthew Curtis, who opened Cambridge, 1. with Chris Lutes in 2002. Curtis and Lutes had already opened the Miracle of Science Bar + Grill in The Port in 1991. (“We are honoring Cambridge, 1. gift certificates at our affiliate restaurant,” Curtis said, noting it’s “now in its 29th year.”)

But the home of Cambridge, 1. – its name was an homage to its location inside a former fire station – is slated to become a restaurant called Source, according to a builder who filed a Historical Commission application last month for a new window treatment. The builder, reached Thursday by phone, wasn’t able to immediately provide more information. A message was also left with Curtis.

The fare at Cambridge, 1. was called “an amazing piece of minimalist performance art” by reviewers at The Boston Phoenix, while Boston Magazine said that its “devotion to simplicity makes the food soar.” 

A Fenway location had a run of around five years, closing in 2011.

At 27 Church St., the simple pizza and salad joint was just several storefronts away from a 10 Church St. AMC Loews that was thriving until July 2012; its closing also causing a drop-off at businesses such as Lizzy’s Ice Cream and the Border Cafe – where once there were lines out the door and a regular need for police details to watch over customers. John Schall, owner of the former Fire + Ice at 50 Church St., said he shut down the restaurant after nearly 20 years because he couldn’t recover from the loss of business after the cinema closed. “It created a dynamic on Church Street – a loss of traffic and activity that I wasn’t able to recover from,” Schall said. While there were other factors, “the life of Fire + Ice would have been significantly longer if that building hadn’t remained vacant.” 

The Cambridge Artists Cooperative gets to stay in at 59a Church St. for at least another two years, after getting a scare this summer that it would be forced out by rent increases after 30 years.

The Border Cafe suffered a two-alarm fire Dec. 1 at 32 Church St., and has been closed since. The restaurant expects to reopen in February after renovations.

Curtis did not mention fears of losing foot traffic from years of construction expected to replace the theater at the foot of Church Street. Plans call for a five-story contemporary office building with ground-floor retail and two below-ground movie theaters.

Around the block, the quirky Black Ink retail shop is shutting its doors by the end of the year after 18 years; Crema Cafe closed a year ago after 10 years. Both were forced out by rent increases.

But the pizza purveyors indicated no cause for bitterness. 

“Cambridge, 1. had a great run from early 2002 to late 2019 and we are thankful to our many customers, employees and vendors who made C1 a special part of our neighborhood,” Curtis said.