After 50 years as a shopping and cultural hub in the middle of Harvard Square, The Garage will soon be revamped.
“We love the building,” said John DiGiovanni, chairman of Trinity Property Management. “It was and is a very cool place. But what I would say is cooler than The Garage is Harvard Square.
DiGiovanni said the old building – which dates back to 1860, when it was a stable – is not accessible to people with disabilities. He also hopes the redesign will reinvigorate the property to attract new customers, and that “in 40 or 50 years people will be talking about how cool [the new] the place was.
Building plans filed with the city show developers plan to begin renovations in 2023, rebuilding the interior while preserving the masonry facades of Mt. Auburn and Dunster streets. Trinity Property Management is working to bring restaurants, retail and office tenants into the new building, although leases have yet to be signed.
But some current tenants and frequent visitors to the Garage are concerned about what this project means for the future of the neighborhood. Comedian, podcast host and Harvard Square regular Ken Reid has joined GBH’s morning edition this week to reflect on her memories of the mall.
Reid grew up in Melrose and rode the Orange Line to hang out at the garage, where he remembers rummaging through crates in record stores looking for gold, getting craft coffee in the world pre-Starbucks and renting movies like Videosmith’s “Eraserhead.” .
“Almost nothing of the Harvard Square I grew up with exists. Frankly, almost nothing of the Boston that I grew up with exists,” he said. “It’s not necessarily for the worse…but it’s losing character.”
Reid said The Garage stood out for its unique businesses that customers couldn’t find elsewhere, especially before the internet. Now he expects some of the garage’s current tenants to turn to online businesses, while he hopes others will find new physical spaces.
A current tenant, Chameleon Tattoo & Body Piercing, already fundraising for relocation costs.
“We are working with the owner of the building to hopefully relocate somewhere in the Harvard Square area,” said Rueben Kayden, a senior tattoo artist who will take over the legendary shop after the move when the current owner takes over. retirement. “That’s the ultimate goal. But this comes at a high price.
Kayden, who has tattooed at Chameleon for 17 years, said he relied on the store’s community. Moving costs could end up running into around $80,000 to $100,000, he said, not including rent. But Trinity Property Management is working with the business and clients are offering to help in any way they can. Some give money, others with carpentry or plumbing skills volunteer their time.
“It’s about keeping tattoo culture alive in Harvard Square,” Kayden said. “Small businesses are closing all the time, and I feel like there’s not much flavor left at Harvard. We’re one of the last artistic businesses available in the area. And that’s become my personal mission to m ensure it stays alive and stays true.
Below is a transcript of Ken Reid’s appearance on GBH’s morning edition. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Paris Alton: We have seen that you, along with many others, deplore the closing of the Garage. On Twitter you said, I quote, “Wow, shocked and sad to see this news about The Garage in Harvard Square“, saying you spent much of your youth there, noting that Video Smith alone took probably two full weeks out of your life, which equals 336 hours. I didn’t do that calculation. I did this calculation in advance.
Ken Reid: Very Harvard of you.
Alton: So tell us what you remember about The Garage.
Reid: It’s kind of a mall. But, you know, I grew up in the suburbs, I grew up in Melrose, the last stop on the orange line – growing up there and going to Harvard Square and shopping, that was the closest to a one-stop shop. It was like a – how do I put this for younger people? – it was like a physical Etsy.
Alton: Yes, that’s an excellent description.
Reid: It was kind of everything you thought was cool in a miniature little mall. So Newbury Comics was there, various businesses over the years, but including the cool clothing store, there was a place called Allston Beat. There was also Video Smith, which was a spin-off from Booksmith. And it was kind of the only place where you could rent LaserDiscs. If you wanted to see the “Eraserhead” movie, you had to rent it from there. And I would take, you know, two buses and a train to rent it, go home, watch it, take two buses and a train back. There were also strawberries, records and tapes in the basement and very good food stores.
It was also in a pre-Starbucks world and was one of the only places to have a cafe. There was a cafe in there called The Coffee Connection where Marc Maron actually worked. And that’s where the Starbucks is now. You had Dunkin Donuts, but it was high end. You know, they made an espresso.
And then in the basement over there, where I believe Tasty Burger is now, was the comedy club Catch a Rising Star. And that’s where people like David Cross, Laura Kightlinger, Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, Dana Gould – all those Boston-Cambridge area alt-comic genres – Jonathan Katz, all had shows and played at this place. So when I was growing up and being a teenager they used to have a tannoy speaker on the sidewalk I think to get people to come and listen to the show or pay to go see the show. But I was 11 or 12, so I would sit on the sidewalk and listen to comedies. [Editor’s note: The club was right next to The Garage, though not part of the building.]
Jeremy Siegel: I’ve read some Yelp reviews of The Garage, which are quite entertaining, and a lot of them sort of match what you said. A lot of people say, “If you’re stuck in the square and need to kill some time, this is the place to go.” One of them cracked me up, they said, I quote, “There’s nothing here I want and yet I want to die here,” they said, “I like the garage, even the wicked – word I won’t say – bathrooms.”
Alton: So Ken, you need to tell us about those bathrooms.
Reid: It was about the only place in Harvard Square that had a public restroom, and it had a lock. This was the first time I had come across one of those bathroom doors that had like a code that you put in. And the code for that door was valuable information when I was a teenager, because they changed it often. But, you know, without smartphones, it was like a whisper network.
Headquarters : Spread the word.
Reid: “It’s 2070 this week, if you need to go to the bathroom.”
Alton: It’s hilarious.
Reid: You never knew what you would find there.
Headquarters : Hearing you talk about this and reading these reviews, I mean, it’s amazing. It feels like a slice of nostalgia in so many people’s minds. But I have to ask, why is it called The Garage?
Reid: It was a garage. So it opened, I think, in the 1700s or 1800s as a horse stall. And then it was a parking lot in Harvard Square until 1972, when they decided there was a big movement in Harvard Square, mostly to make it less of a car culture area. And so they turned it into this mixed-use mall, which is even why the ramp when you walk in was for cars. The reason it still feels like the outside when you’re inside is that it was designed for cars. And it didn’t park a lot of cars, so it made more sense as this kind of mixed-use place for businesses.
Alton: So, with the Garage closing, Ken, what will happen to the businesses there? An idea?
Reid: I’m not sure. The Chameleon Tattoo, which was the first legal tattoo parlor in Massachusetts, I believe – certainly in Cambridge – has a GoFundMe in the works. It was a piercing place before being a tattoo place.
Newbury Comics, I guess, will probably move to a different location. They’ve evolved that way over the past few years, moving many of their standalone locations to malls, ironically, with this particular case.
A lot of businesses have sort of closed down and been ephemeral over the years there as well. But I don’t know where they will go and I don’t know where the new place is for these kinds of businesses. … But a lot of those places can probably move online or, you know, go to places like Etsy.
Headquarters : Harvard Square is a place that goes through a lot of change. It’s just a marker of that. What do you think of what you see happening in this area?
Reid: It’s kind of how I imagine people hanging out in Times Square in the 70s felt when it got super Disney. Almost nothing of the Harvard Square I grew up with exists. Frankly, almost nothing of the Boston I grew up with exists. It’s not necessarily for the worse. There were a lot of dodgy and inappropriate places that I have a nostalgic fondness for as an adult and were probably not good places to hang out. And so I’m kind of glad that a generation of kids don’t have to go to these places to get the cool things they want. But it’s losing character – like the Out of Town short stories have faded – and you know, you’re missing the reason to go to Harvard Square. So the reason for going somewhere was that there were businesses and experiences that you could only physically have. And when you can do it virtually or go to any existing mall or, you know, mixed-use mall and they have 90% of the same stores and restaurants…unless you’re already physically in this area, there is not much reason to be there.
There were probably 15 record stores in Harvard Square when I was young. And you’d go digging in crates and try to find gold – and now you’re looking for it and you can find it. So I can’t blame people for adopting the easiest and best. But something is missing when you physically stumble upon something and can only get to that place.