Crimson Corner to Leave Harvard Square


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Janelle Anderson's picture

“We were not planning on closing” says Chris Kotelly, the current owner of the Crimson Corner, a newsstand located at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Brattle Street across the street from Harvard Square.

Outside the Harvard Square landmark, current issues of The Boston Globe, The New York Times and other well-known newspaper publications fill the bottom shelf in front of the establishment. Above the shelves, customers can find whatever covers their interests from spring wedding trends to to the latest health kick craze.

Kotelly started working at the stand as a teenager part-time afterschool. He worked the cash register during his uncles’ ownership of the store. The store has been in his family for 54 years.

Since his teenage days, Kotelly has expanded the stand’s merchandise. Two years ago he made the decision to sell Harvard sweatshirts, mugs and other knickknacks in addition to newspapers and magazines. Inside the store, cold beverages, lottery tickets and phone cards can be purchased as well. Just below the cash register, at knee level, are selection of kid magazines for even the youngest of interests.

“There’s still a crowd,” says Kotelly. “ I think there’s still a need for newsstands. Some people get news from their phones, but some people still want to read a newspaper or magazine to travel.”

Conveniently located outside of the Harvard Square train station, daily commuters are sure to see the store as they emerge from their commutes.

“We have a lot a regulars,” said Kotelly. Not seeing the familiar Crimson Corner banner everyday may be issue, even an inconvenience, for those who go to the Crimson Corner as apart of their daily routine.  

Customers have gone to city meetings to voice their concerns over the matter, but the store’s closing has nothing to be with the lack of interest or value it has to the neighborhood. It’s money.

Capitalizing Cambridge

A lot of local businesses and establishments have seen an increase in rent in Cambridge. This past October, when Tory Row, an American/European restaurant, closed nextdoor, Kotelly didn’t think the Crimson Corner was next. He was still confident that the “there would always be a place” for newsstands in Harvard Square when Out of Town news was rumored of closing its location.

Kotelly lost his lease to &Pizza, an organic and environmentally conscious pizza chain that wanted to expand the closed Tory Row location next door. If the plans goes through, this place would be the pizza chain’s first Massachusetts location. The proposed plan is to break the wall separating Tory Row and the Crimson Corner for a bigger space.

“I heard through the city that it was approved,” said Kotelly.

A number of local businesses have been closing in the area. Kotelly recounts how Hidden Sweets, a candy, chocolate and tourist gift-store, closed last month. As a whole, businesses in Harvard Square are seeing a threat of from corporate business that can afford the higher rent prices of the area.

Whether there’s a market for these kinds of corporate businesses in the area is up to the residents and commuting consumers. From his teenage days at the Crimson Corner to his position as owner, Kotelly is confident in the Cambridge community’s support for local businesses and its owners.

“The community over the years has become more involved with making things better, becoming more vocal, trying to protect the integrity of the buildings and small businesses.” said Kotelly.

He suggests that big chains won’t have a lasting presence in the community. Not every store can be a “Abercrombie & Fitch or Pacific Sunwear” location.

As for the Crimson Corner, its stance at the corner of Harvard Square may be coming to an end, but Kotelly is searching for other locations in the Cambridge area big enough for the newsstand.

He plans to continue Crimson Corner’s presence in Cambridge, even if that means it’s no longer in Harvard Square.
Retail runs in his family. Kotelly’s grandfather opened the newsstand in Cambridge after previously owning a grocery store in Boston. Kotelly prefers the retail business himself. He gets to meet new people and students in the area.

“I am hopeful that once more chains come and realize that they can't be profitable, as other chains have gone through in the past, maybe it will become all small independents again.” said Kotelly.