Curious George bookstore would be replaced by elevator, stairs in developer's plans to turn Harvard Square block into a mall

Proposed remake of block between Brattle and JFK streets in Harvard Square

Architect's rendering.

Developer Equity One goes before the Cambridge Historical Commission on Thursday for permission to gut the buildings that house Curious George and Urban Outfitters and add three new floors to create a mall called the Harvard Collection.

Equity One, which says it specializes in "the redevelopment of high quality shopping centers in supply constrained markets," spent $85 million last October to buy 1-7 and 9-11 JFK Street and 18-20 Brattle Street.

Under the plans submitted to the Historical Commission, the space now occupied by the Curious George bookstore would be replaced by a building lobby, a stairway and an elevator. The building is also known for the Dewey, Cheetham & Howe headquarters of Car Talk.

Atop the two buildings further away from the square, the company proposes two new floors of glass-enclosed space - which would then be connected to the existing Curious George building to create "contiguous retail and commercial floors." And then, atop that and extending onto the roof of the current Curious George building. would be a similarly glass-enclosed "pavilion," capped by a large skylight. The company's filing does not specify what the topmost floor would house.

Equity One says it would retain the existing brick facades - and try to restore many of the windows to their original configurations as part of its "complete renvoation and restoration" of the buildings.

The commission's hearings begin at 6 p.m. at Cambridge City Hall, Sullivan Chamber, 795 Massachusetts Ave. There is not a specific time for the Harvard Collection hearing.

In a conference call with investors last fall, Equity One CEO David Lukes explained why the company bought the three buildings:

This property is a rare find and it checked all three of our strategic boxes, overwhelming demand, near-term below market expirations and supportive zoning. Over 20,000 people a day use the T-Stop across the street and 8 million people visit Harvard Square every year and all the leases in the project are short-term with expirations occurring before the end of 2017. Just as important, we believe our investment in this asset will well exceed our cost of capital and we'll be producing these returns in one of the most coveted urban retail corridors in the country.

Proposed view from the intersection:

Proposed Harvard Collection in Harvard Square

Schematic of exterior changes:

Proposed Harvard Collection in Harvard Square

Sign in Curious George window:

Proposed Harvard Collection in Harvard Square

Equity One's plans, filed with the Cambridge Historical Commission (4.6M PDF).
Equity One's application to the commission (539k PDF).

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Comments

The last nail in the coffin of Harvard Square

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The Curious George Store is one of the last remaining "unique" places in Harvard Square. And what would become of "Dewey, Cheetham & Howe"? Do we really need a generic mall there? Greed knows no limits. What a disgrace!

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Not any consolation, but

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The current incarnation of the Curious George store as a tourist trap instead of an actual bookstore is already a huge loss, and putting it out of its misery doesn't seem much worse.

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perhaps if we had a maximum square footage

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Zoning requirement for retail space we might get what we really want. How about 1000 SF? Pick a number. But lower than Forever 21 or Target needs. Reincarnate Jack's joke shop, the Tasty, Steves's, and for God's sake, sanction Sandy's as a national monument and help someone. As it is, rents are crazy expensive such that only developers can afford it. They'll flip it in a few years anyways.

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THIS IS NOT WHAT HARVARD SQUARE NEEDS!

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I remember when Harvard Square was a vital, thriving, unique and colorful place. It was not just a 'marketplace.' It was so much more than that. There were so many boutiques and venues that were one-of-a-kind that offered high quality. And not only the locals loved it; Harvard Square in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s drew people from all over the world.
All that started to disappear in the mid-'90s as rentals soared, and after 2001 the Square started to become a shell of its former self, a near ghost-town of tepid, depressing chain restaurants and clothing stores, interspersed with FAR too many banks and phone stores. The beautiful boutiques and locally owned restaurants? Most of them disappeared. A few survived by scaling back (BAAK Gallery, which used to sell my hand-painted silk scarves, moved into 1/2 of its original space, and is still there today. It is one of the few locally owned boutiques that survived.)
My prediction: Harvard Square will NOT improve at all with this huge albatross. In fact, it will be an embarrassment and failure, as stores will not be able to afford to move in. Rentals are far too high in the Square, and need to come down. That is simply a fact that has already been recognized by everyone except apparently the real estate owners in Cambridge.
This is the wrong direction for Harvard Square to take in its efforts to revitalize. We need a return to small, creative, locally owned businesses.

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Increasing supply is how you lower rents

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It's not like Harvard Square is full of vacancies. Rent in Harvard Square is high because lots of people want to run businesses there, even if they have to pay high rent to do so. If you increase the square footage of real estate with developments like this, then you'd have plenty of room to have Qdoba and charming local boutique stores. (Real estate isn't just about supply and demand, and certainly there's a role for regulations, but opposing development is going in exactly the wrong direction.)

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It's not like Harvard Square

It's not like Harvard Square is full of vacancies.

Actually, it's exactly like that. I don't know what the specifics are right in the heart of the square, but if you walk a block or two in any direction, you're sure to find empty storefronts.

Rent in Harvard Square is high because lots of people want to run businesses there,

Rent is high in Harvard Square because Harvard, the primary landlord, refuses to rent out space at less than "market" rate, where "market" is defined as the commercial real estate market circa 2007. They'd rather write the empty storefronts off on their taxes than rent them for less money (which would depress the "value" of their other holdings).

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Says somebody who doesn't

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Says somebody who doesn't have kids or any interest in them, would be my guess. It's a charming Children's book store full of interesting finds (both Curious George related and non-related) and lots of nooks to cozy up in.

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Such design. Much beauty.

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A building facade only a mother could love. Congratulations gentrification! I look forward to an infinite supply of Curious George graffiti in the years to come.

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Reminds me of the bitter

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Reminds me of the bitter mourning when Wordsworth closed in 2004. This is an article from the Globe at the time, though most of the text is now behind a paywall. I saved off one quote from it, though, at the time:

In the 1980s," says Stavis, ''on Memorial Drive, you'd see people coming out of dorms and heading toward Harvard Square. In the 1990s, what you'd see in the windows of dorms was a Doppler effect of blue lights from computer screens, and you knew students were at their computer, hitting a key to order from Amazon.com. The only reason they'd come out of their dorms was to have Chinese food and mate.

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Let''s be fair here

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Students should with the locals, and give me a chance.

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Thoughts

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As a life long Boston area resident, I struggle to know what a good balance is on keeping 617 historic and also moving forward and keeping up with the world.

Big retail chains come in because we go there enough to keep them in business to afford crazy high rents. Davis Square still has some smaller shops if we want them, but as a society we for some reason feed into advertising/branding and go to the big, familiar brands.

We choose places like Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, Wagamama and keep them in business and slowly forget to support the hole in the wall spots like good old Wursthaus (RIP), Casablanca, the Tasty, etc.

Developers always find a way to sway government officials and we end up with big ugly malls replacing charming old buildings.

I'm no economist but the amount people who shop and dine and spend money at chain stores andmalls surely play a part in the direction of how things go. In terms of a mall that is done right, Faneuil Hall seems to work. I don't shop there but I'm glad that if they were going to put in national brands, at least they keep it historic looking.

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faneuil hall and harvard sq

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The reverence for Faneuil Hall is crumbling under the new developer's lack of understanding of what Boston Culture is. He thinks he knows and then compares the district to Bryant Park.
Faneuil Hall has been taken a step further into not only gentrification but ignorance as to its history. Original 1826 granite has been removed for a stairs to Japanese Uniglo and its movable manikin dummies displaying clothes in the middle of food vendors. Vendors are all being evicted for wine bars and entertainment for Millennials. And where are the 20 million visitors going to take their children when visiting the cradle of Liberty? They can always go into the glass cosmetic store flanking the National landmark. This sad tale parallels the loss of the legendary Harvard Sq as a funky intellectual and democratic place full of thinkers. The governmental system of procedure and inclusion is broken and the people are the last to know what is being plotted.

why is it possible for European squares to maintain their culture,traditions and architecture with very little interruption and thrive? Why can't American Architects take their cues from historic context, material, proportion, scale, height, community use-- or are developers just so ignorant they throw the baby out with the bath water?. I can't WAIT for the public meeting this Thurs at Cambridge City Hall. Curious George and Car Talk are as iconic as the Citco sign in Kenmore Sq.

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There is plenty of actual

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There is plenty of actual history in the actual Faneuil Hall on the 2nd floor. QUINCY MARKET, which you bemoan in your comment, has always been a market. While I agree that taking out historic steps from the market is not good, it has always been a place of commerce and some not so pretty commerce at that. One person once told me about their grandfather/great grandfather's stall which sold liver and cigars. Must have smelt lovely, ugh.

Either way, Faneuil Hall (the actual one) gets millions of visitors a year both local and from away (American and international) so don't worry about that.

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This is not gentrification.

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Can we just clarify here? Maybe there's a term out there for what has happened to Harvard Square and Faneuil Hall but it is NOT gentrification. Mallification? De-funking. The triumph of soulless bloodsucking real estate conglomerates? It's just a very different beast from what most people define as gentrification.

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good point, sally

Yeah, it's more the generification of the area, and the slow killing of the street life.

To be honest, Harvard Square has been turning into a mall for so long, this is just ripping back the stage curtains and admitting it. Nevertheless, it's hideous looking and unnecessary. What shopping is missing from Harvard Square that requires a mall? Compare Harvard Square with Harvard Avenue in Allston, with similar demographics and needs-- cheap furniture for student apartments, clothes for under 30s, pretty cheap restaurants, bookstores/comic stores/game stores, tech stores-- and Harvard Square is slightly ahead of Harvard Street overall.

The few things Harvard Square is missing that I can think of off the top of my head is a decent venue for live music, a place to buy some groceries without getting on a subway, and a first run theater (I think one could still work, dammit) all of which seem unlikely to be provided by this mall.

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Sad

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Two of those things did exist but decamped or went under - original House of Blues and the Harvard Square and Janus cinemas. There are some high end food shops but they're hardly grocery quality in terms of variety, size, and cheapness. And as we have heard earlier this month - Out of Town News and The Pit are next on the chopping block.

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I forgot about Passim...

... as I'm not much of a folk fan, but yes, you're right. I'm not a fan of the Sinclair-- only been there twice, but both times the sound was horrible & muddy.

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Jonathan Swift's

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Along with House of Blues for music and the Harvard Square and Janus cinemas for movies you forgot Jonathan Swift's. That was a great place for live music in the heyday of the old Harvard Square. And kudos for remembering the long forgotten Janus.

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Club 47 was also a really

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Club 47 was also a really good music venue in the 1960s. And for food, besides the Tasty, there was Elsie's, wonderful Elsie's (71A Mt Auburn St), with those enormous roast beef specials topped with Bermuda onions. All long gone. I'm surprised the Out of Town News has lasted this long. I remember when they were in a rambling, ugly wooden shack right next to the kiosk, which was the subway entrance in those days, when the Harvard station was the end of the red line and MTA buses had a turnaround in the middle of the square.

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Club 47 lives on as Club Passim today

Club 47 moved from 47 Mount Auburn Street to Palmer Street, where they petitioned the City Council to assign them the address "47". When they closed, Passim opened in its place, and they continue the tradition that Club 47 began.

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You forgot Sages!

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Sages wasn't exactly a grocery store, but i don't think it was as expensive as current Market in the Square is. i miss Sages....and damnit, i miss all the bookstores!

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Groceries

There's a grocery store at Church and Brattle streets. It used to be called Sage's, but has some other name now. I think it's open 24 hours.

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Specialty foods

That place is more of a specialty food shop that a true grocery store-like those little stores you see in Manhattan that have salad bars and hot food bars and fancy cheese and cookies but not the place to get your weekly produce and other staples.

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Can they?

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why is it possible for European squares to maintain their culture,traditions and architecture with very little interruption and thrive?

In the past few years I've spent a fair bit of time in Dublin, Prague, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Vienna. Their urban squares have for the most part retained the streetscape and architecture, but the stores? Big name European stores, not holes in the wall. Were Harvard Square in Europe, it might well be car free -- but the stores would have already all converted over to European department, electronic, or fashion stores.

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not all the architects fault

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Please stop blaming the architects, they design within the developers budgets who are providing what they feel can sustain itself.....as other commenters have said if the public keeps shopping at natioal chains the developers will keep building to suit national chains. Sure Target and Wallmart are cheap but they aren't housed in unique buildings since that would increase their cost.

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Lots of turnover

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I think a big part of this has to do with the huge college student population in Boston/Cambridge. Every year, 25% of that population leaves and is replaced with new residents. In 4 years that population has cycled 100%. Yes, some of them stay on as "real" residents, and of course there are the long-term folks, but when you have such significant population turnover, it doesn't take too long before fewer and fewer people remember places like the Tasty, etc.

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In many respects it's

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In many respects it's everyone else who has to keep up. This area has long been ahead of others.

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All character will be gone

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Sad state and ugly design. Why are the residents and officials in Cambridge allowing what's left of the beauty, charm and history of Harvard Square to be sucked out with this plan?

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So I guess this means

every business on both sides of that triangle won't have their leases renewed, not to mention the people in the Dewey Cheatam & Howe building itself. So no more useful businesses like the hardware store, for example, nor the fellow upstairs in the DCH building who rebinds books, to name just two.

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But you won't have to drive

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But you won't have to drive all the way to Watertown mall to get to Forever 21 or Victoria's Secret.

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I have been out of Harvard

I have been out of Harvard Square for two years now but I have a very strong understanding of who owned/owns what, which building is run by which company and which companies are owned by which people.

I can not claim to know what the plan is for the rest of the block but I can tell you that Dickson Brothers Hardware is owned by Edward Ver Planck (or was two years ago.) He also owns the hardware store. So unless he sells/sold the building then that business is not going anywhere. Many of these buildings have convoluted lines, you would be hard pressed in some instances to know where one owner starts and the next one ends. Cambridge has a detailed set up on their website about the ownership of different buildings.

I do know that the buildings in question used to be run by Dick Getz management but from what I heard he no longer has that contract. His office used to be on the 18 Brattle Street side, 4th floor. If I recall they were part of the Dow Family Trust.

Long story short, unless they made a deal with ver Planck the hardware store should be fine.

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Just looked at the plans,

Just looked at the plans, Dickson Brothers is not in them. They are 26 Brattle Street and this stops at 20 Brattle Street which is Tess, the high end womans clothing store on the first floor of the Abbot Building. Where as 18 is the door to the left of Tess and leads to the floors above Tess.

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Ed is dead and Dick is gone

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Sadly we lost the owner of Dicksons Hardware, a very necessary store for students and all who work in the Square. It's only a matter of time before its sold. Dick Getz the buildings manager was replaced, then building sold to the mall makers EquityOne, 112 properties US wide .
The Howe Trust no longer exists that protected small businesses and individual writers, architects, foundations, and artists from high rents. As in a Trump tactic all 24 businesses will be forced out and not be able to afford to come back.

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Ed may be gone, but his son

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Ed may be gone, but his son owns the store now and, as far as I know, has no plans of closing the store any time soon.

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I had not heard that Ed had

I had not heard that Ed had passed on, may he rest in peace. He was a great man and in my opinion epitomized what the true spirit of Harvard Square was/is. That store has an account with almost every business in the square, so even when it's not busy it is busy with behind the scenes work.

I agree with the other comment though, the family seems dedicated to the space. They always have been. While Ed was the owner, he clearly was not running the show on his own. I have always been impressed with the range of selection they have for such a small space. Anything I could possibly have imagined needing they had stocked. As much as I hated having to go all the way to the third floor in the back for a bolt, it made sense because the first floor operated as a general use section.

As I said, they own the space so they can stay as long as they want, even if they get engulfed by a mall.

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The exterior wouldn't be

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The exterior wouldn't be quite as terrible if they just filled it in with another brick fascade instead of the glass which really sticks out from the rest of the building. Also I wonder if they'd consider the project economically viable if they don't get that added story that they want.

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Oh joy, another mall

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Just what we need, another soul-less "mall". The spirit of the city is fading away. Where once everything was quirky, we find the same stores in California as we do in mass. I used to frequent the square for unique products. Nothing unique any more. One more reason not to visit the square any more.

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It stems from a failure of leadership...

We elect politicians who focus on growth at the expense of city character and culture. The two issues don't have to be incompatible but when you have people who lack any vision about what the want the city to look like in 20, 30 or 50 years you end up with a generic, soulless look.

In this case it is Cambrigde - Boston, as we are well aware, is doing the exact same thing. Case in point: the Seaport district. Back in the 60's we had an excellent opportunity to create a City Hall Plaza that would set the tone for what Boston was all about. Instead we build monstrosities like the JFK, Hurley, Fed Reserve buildings. The new Federal Court is an example of what could be.

But when you have a mayor who's imagination is limited to bringing Formula 1 racing to the city or tearing the city apart to accommodate the 2024 Oympics, and ignoring the coming crisis and complete collapse of the public transportation system, this is what we get.

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Wrong priorities

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"But when you have a mayor who's imagination is limited to bringing Formula 1 racing to the city or tearing the city apart to accommodate the 2024 Oympics, and ignoring the coming crisis and complete collapse of the public transportation system, this is what we get."

Don't forget, he also managed to clear Boylston Street of an apocalypse of snow for the ridiculous Patriot's Parade for tourists and suburbanites while the rest of us in Boston neighborhoods lived like refugees waiting for the snow to be cleared. Such wrong priorities, along with the Olympics and Formula 1 did not endear him to me.

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garage as an example

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I have been going to the garage since I was a teenager and it has only gotten more depressing with shops not doing as well as they used to do in the early 90's....why would they put another mall type space in Harvard Sq? I run a guest house outside Central Sq and Harvard Sq is just becoming cringe worthy to recommend anymore. Guests want to see Harvard and then be impressed with shops that they can't find at home. Not to mention with Assembly Row opening we can see the trend is moving malls to outdoor shopping and walking.....Harvard Sq already has that they just need more quirky shops!

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It's coming true...

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Curatone was more on point than he knew:

It's really not fair of me to issue this challenge. Cambridge stands no chance. For instance, I remember in my youth when Harvard Square used to be fun and funky. You know, back before it got turned into a mall. Seriously, when did Cambridge become Natick? And when does Harvard Square officially change its name to The Cambridge Collection?

Emphasis mine.

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I had my suspicions, but the

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I had my suspicions, but the demolition of the chess tables confirmed everything...

Whoever is running this ship is pretty clear about their vision for the future, and it does not include the weirdos, hippies, homeless, and crusty intellectuals. I think it's safe to say: we lost.

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