REFLECTION ON 40 YEARS IN CENTRAL SQUARE
by David Trumbull
April 13, 2000
Today Central Square is bustling. Old buildings are renovated for new shops. Existing shops unveil attractive new storefronts. And, at long last, a handsome new building rises from the hole at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Magazine Street. A decade ago the picture was very different.
In the early 1990's Central Square was run down. Economic recession in Massachusetts was grinding away at what remained of the old Central Square retail center. A shameful city policy of rent control was slowing destroying residential property and depressing values around the square. Central Square was, at least in the minds of many, an unsafe place full of crime and grime.
Few saw the Central Square that could be. One was Harry Katis, a Greek immigrant who has lived and worked there since 1956. Harry's restaurant, The Fishery, was one of the earliest reinvestments in Central Square. In the words of a City Council resolution saluting Harry on his recent retirement: "The Fishery became a place where elected officials and candidates of all parties often met and received the wisdom of Harry."
Last week, over a beer in another Central Square eatery, Harry shared with me his thoughts on the Square, and on our city officials, and the media.
The City's Role in Business Development
Harry is quick to credit the City of Cambridge for spending over $1 million to upgrade Central Square. While the tax money for lighting, benches, and so forth did not actually caused the businesses to prosper, it did send an important message that Central Square is OK, a safe place to visit. That is important in attracting people from other places to come and spend here.
Now the best thing the city could do for businesses is to get out of the way. "They need to make it easier for developers," says Harry. "I don't mean the City should close their eyes and let developers do just anything--but make it easier."
According to Harry it took too long to get permission for the new construction on the Holmes Block. "If I were a developer, I'd think twice before doing anything in Cambridge," added Harry of the bureaucracy.
"I'm a little aggressive," he added, stating "I'd like to see more buildings like that [Holmes Block]. It will look nice. We cannot have all the same buildings for 300 years. I can see saving historic buildings and those with nice architectural design. But this City makes it difficult to build even on an empty lot."
Cambridge a World-Class City?
Cambridge is well known all over the world as home to the best two schools-MIT and Harvard. Yet we do not try to be a cosmopolitan city that caters to our visitors from around the world. Harry particularly singles out local and state ordinances that restrict nighttime entertainment. "There are no restaurants open after 10:00 p.m. The are no nightclubs. In Athens you can eat, drink, and dance at 3:00 a.m. without any problem. Here we go to sleep at 8:00 in the evening."
Harry believes it would be good for Cambridge to have night entertainment. "If it's OK to serve alcohol until 1:00 a.m., then you can go to 2:00 a.m. with no additional problems." He see lost opportunities for Cambridge when visitors have to go to Boston for dinner and entertainment. "We don't offer things to keep tourists in Cambridge," says Harry.
He is optimistic about change, noting that while the politicians try to keep Cambridge a small town that rolls up the sidewalks at 8:00 p.m. "the people now travel and they see how the rest of the world is and they want to follow what other countries do."
According to Harry we have benefited from a full-time city manager running the city. He is concerned that, "a mayor, who is only mayor for two years, and spends most of the second year running for reelection cannot plan anything for the city."
Best Wishes for a Happy Retirement
Last month Harry sold The Fishery" "I thank all my customers for great support over the past seven years. I have received many phone calls from individuals, other establishments, and public officials wishing me well." At 65 years Harry has decided it's time to sit back and relax.
Harry also thanks all the media, the radio, newspapers--many Boston papers and the Cambridge Chronicle that wrote stories about The Fishery. "The only local paper that did not write a thing--I'm still bitter because it was a good restaurant and their readers want to know about a good restaurant--was the Boston Globe," said Harry as he showed me clippings from many Boston area papers.
Expect to see Harry around the Square for a long time to come. "I'll always stay in Central Square because this is where my heart is. When I came from Greece in 1956, I came to Central Square. This is where he met Vicky, whom he wed in 1963 at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Central Square. Harry and Vicky have two sons and a four and a half year old granddaughter.
Best wishes to Harry and Vicky!
Lee Street resident David Trumbull is chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.