The party outside the Holyoke Center, complete with Oggi’s pizza, hot apple cider, and musical performances by the co-ed a cappella group the Harvard LowKeys, was more than a festive way to kick off the season. It was also a reminder of Harvard’s ties to the local community, even when making a holiday shopping list.
Dozens of staff, faculty, and students — along with local business owners and Harvard President Drew Faust — turned out at Forbes Plaza on Thursday (Dec. 2) to kick off Crimson Shops Local, an annual effort by the University and the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA) to encourage shopping nearby this season. The event also featured discounts to Harvard Square restaurants, retailers, and other businesses.
From their morning coffee to their evening errands, many members of the Harvard community patronize local businesses almost every day. But holiday sales are crucial for many retailers’ survival, especially in Harvard Square, where 80 percent of businesses are locally owned and independent, said Denise Jillson, HSBA executive director.
“People understand that Harvard Square is such a unique place and that we have to care for it, especially in these hard economic times,” Jillson said.
Thursday’s event, sponsored by Harvard Public Affairs and Communications, Harvard Campus Services, and the HSBA, was designed to remind the University community how Harvard can help local businesses thrive.
“If we combine the purchasing power of Harvard students, faculty, and staff, we can further boost our local economy, support local jobs and people, and help independent and locally owned stores and restaurants to succeed in challenging times,” said Christine Heenan, Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications.
The HSBA estimates that Harvard Square merchants draw about 40 percent of their business from people who work and study in the area. Harvard student spending alone contributes $289 million annually to the local economy, according to Heenan.
For the second straight year, Faust came out to do some local shopping herself, after listening to Christmas carols sung by the LowKeys.
“The Square is so important — it’s where we live,” Faust said of Harvard’s connection to the business community. “It’s a privilege to be located here.”
Local businesses “contribute to making this a very vibrant community, and a place where people want to come shop and visit,” she said. They also keep Harvard Square and the surrounding campus a bustling and safe public space, she added.
Faust wandered into Black Ink, a Boston-based boutique of “unexpected necessities” that opened its Brattle Street location nine years ago.
Susan Corcoran, the store’s owner, said holiday business appears to have picked up from the past two years, when recession-weary shoppers spent less during the winter season.
“There’s a little more optimism,” she said.
The store was packed with shoppers, including Faust, who vacillated in the toy aisle before purchasing a puzzle for her 2-year-old nephew. (“I save all my decisions for being president,” she said jokingly.)
Faust then headed next door to Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, the specialty food store that’s home to the Square’s oldest deli, where she purchased some locally made Taza chocolate bars for her husband.
“It’s a great place to do some shopping,” Faust said. “I’ll be back again.”
Mark Cardullo, the family business’ owner, said he welcomes Harvard and the HSBA’s support during the uncertain holiday season, when just one bad storm can throw off the store’s sales numbers.
“We definitely rely on the holiday sales,” he said. “It’s amazing that we’re still here after 60 years with no parking. We just rely on people walking by, essentially, and stopping in.”
Many of those casual customers are Harvard students. International students often come in looking for specialty foods from their home countries. (“If they request it and we can find it, we’ll get it in stock,” he said.) And it doesn’t hurt that Cardullo’s accepts Crimson Cash.
The store even advertises in Harvard Magazine, Cardullo said, because so many alumni have come back over the years looking for the sandwiches they ate as undergraduates.
“We embrace the University and their growth,” Cardullo said. “They’ve been a good partner to us.”
In addition to the Crimson Shops Local event, other holiday events will take place in Harvard Square during December. For more information.