Curious George is staying in his Harvard Square home.
The store named for the iconic children’s book character faced an uncertain future since it was announced last year that the owner of the building at 1 John F. Kennedy St. was planning to redevelop the property into an indoor mall. But new plans for the building will enable the store to stay, according to the team at Regency Centers, a developer that acquired Equity One earlier this year.
“This was really a relief and we’re thrilled. The whole team is very excited to know that we're staying in Harvard Square,” said Adam Hirsch, the store’s owner.
The newly renegotiated plans mean that The Curious George Store will leave its spot at the corner of JFK and Brattle Streets and will relocate to a different space in the new building. Hirsch said he anticipates the move will happen in the summer of 2019.
Hirsch said the Harvard Square location has been critical to both the store’s identity and its success. The authors of the classic Curious George children’s books, Margret and H.A. Rey, were longtime Cantabrigians who lived on Hilliard Street. H.A. Rey died in 1977, but Margret was alive to see the original store open in 1996. Hirsch took over ownership of the store six years ago.
“Curious George is rooted in Harvard Square and has long history here, and we’re thrilled to be able to keep it going,” Hirsch said.
Feedback from the Harvard Square Business Association, the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, and other local groups led to the shift in plans for the Abbot Buildings development, which will occupy the flatiron-shaped home to the Curious George store and two adjacent buildings. Equity One spent $85 million to purchase the buildings, and plans to spend tens of millions more to convert the office space on the upper floors into stores.
“[They] let us know that Curious George is truly a store like no other and a key part of the fabric of Harvard Square,” Sam Stiebel, vice president of Investments for Regency Centers said in a statement. “Given that one of our priorities for this project is maintaining a dynamic and interesting retail mix in Harvard Square, we knew it was imperative to find a way to maintain Curious George as a tenant in our building.”
The decision was met with relief from neighborhood groups, who have expressed concerns about the shifting character of the square, as deep-pocketed developers scoop up family-owned buildings and replace longterm local retail tenants with national brands.
“Harvard Square has long been known for the strength of its independent retail, which is a draw for residents and visitors alike. I’ve been clear since day one that keeping Curious George in the Abbot building would set the tone for the kind of project this would be,” Marc McGovern, vice mayor of Cambridge said in a statement. “I applaud the Regency Centers team for listening to the community and taking the time to find an appropriate way to move forward with their project that includes Curious George.”
Hirsch said he’s particularly thankful.
“We’re a small mom and pop shop and our resources are limited,” he said. “For them to proactively engage with us to develop a solution that works for them and works for us, that’s something special. We feel very fortunate.”Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.