By Adam Wong ’17
We repeat, Al’s, that beautiful little gem of a sandwich shop who has served us faithfully with fresh baked Italian loaves stuffed with high-quality meats cheeses and sometimes vegetables, is closing.
As a part of Harvard’s plan to convert the The Holyoke Center into a shiny new building to match the shiny new name, the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, all the restaurants are being evicted into the storm that is The Square business climate.
Before you make a mad dash to Al’s to stockpile sandwiches, put away your cleats and hold up. According to Carlos, the part owner and manager of Al’s Cambridge location, the shop will still be in business until the end of the school year. Until then, Al’s will be looking hard for a new place to reopen up shop in the square. Easier said than done, finding a new lot will prove a difficult challenge to the Harvard institution.
Al’s Cafe, bless its soul, keeps cost down by depending on selling a high volume to make a profit. However, this strategy is risky; by dealing with low margins, the shop is extremely sensitive to any rise in cost, including rent. Whereas the Holyoke Center had some of the lowest rent in the square, the new Smith Center will do away with restaurant lots, and consequently, the low rent that Al’s has previously survived on. The high rent in other lots in and around the square act as a barrier to smaller restaurants that serve cheap eats for a college budget. Instead, the rent encourages the type of restaurant we see everywhere in the square: expensive American restaurant bars. In this climate, there is a good chance that Al’s will not be able to find a location in The Square that can fit its needs.
We still have hope that Al’s Cafe will have a future home in Harvard Square. The community, in love with Al’s huge, flavorful, and cheap sandwiches, are pulling hard to keep the institution around and its sandwiches in close proximity. Recognizing its popularity among its employees and students alike, Harvard had offered initial help in relocating Al’s to a different Harvard-owned lot. Yet, since the eviction notice was passed down in the beginning of this summer, no news of progress has passed down. “We haven’t heard from them in a while. Honestly, we’re worried,” said Carlos. Harvard owns much of the land along Mass Ave, and they could potentially give any one of those spots to Al’s for a manageable rent. The lots currently inhabited by Gnomon Copy and potentially even Yenching have been discussed, and for Carlos, are the best locations for the new Al’s shop.
The renovation of the old Holyoke center has sent shockwaves through the very bricks of Harvard square. The new campus center will have a permanent effect on the face of the square and the collection of restaurants that populate it. It is our sincere hope that, among that collection, Al’s will be right there chugging along, slingin’ those bad boy subs just the way we like.
Photo courtesy of the Harvard Crimson.