CAMBRIDGE — For elegant, turned-out men of a certain age, there’s nowhere better to be seen than the Saturday morning salons at The Andover Shop.
The Harvard Square menswear store, housed in a handsome mid-century modern building on Holyoke Street, has a coveted clientele — not that its longtime proprietor, 92-year-old Charlie Davidson, would ever be so indiscreet as to reveal their identities.
Instead, it is they who speak of Charlie, dropping his name as a kind of code or secret handshake that denotes an insider status.
At Ted Kennedy’s funeral, the eulogies referenced good times spent at The Andover Shop. Davidson outfitted Miles Davis in his suits during his preppy, Ivy League days, and jazz trumpeter Chet Baker once called Davidson his best friend. To George Frazier, the Globe columnist known for his panache, Davidson was a man who embodied the term duende, an Andalusian Spanish term synonymous with class.
So it sent ripples through the duende-sphere this month when a posting on the blog Ivy-Style revealed that The Andover Shop was looking for a buyer. The store has two locations, the one in Cambridge, which opened in 1953, and its original location, which opened in 1948 in Andover and is run by Davidson’s brother-in-law, Virgil Marson. Both the buildings and the businesses are up for sale. George Nanis, the real estate broker handling the deal, said he’s hoping for $5 million and has fielded inquiries from as far as California, Texas, and Canada. The goal, he said, is to find a buyer willing to operate the stores much as they’ve always been run.
That will likely be a challenge, Nanis admits. While Davidson’s and Marson’s advanced ages played a role in their decision to sell, the store has struggled in the past few years. Some of that trouble may be attributed to shifting trends, as it’s been a while since bowties were really in vogue and any brick-and-mortar retailer must now contend with Amazon.
But Davidson and his employees are also wrestling with a far more difficult problem. The shop thrived for more than 60 years in part due to its proximity to Harvard, but that proximity has also been the root of its recent decline. As the university has overhauled the Smith Campus Center on the adjacent block, making the zone around the shop a major construction site, sales have plummeted.
It’s led The Andover Shop and other nearby retailers to argue that the university should have done more to help support them through the construction, which started in 2016 and is scheduled to end this fall. The Classic Restaurant Concepts group, which opened and subsequently closed the En Boca tapas restaurant down the block from The Andover Shop eight months later, is suing the university for breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and other violations, saying that Harvard knowingly entered into a lease without disclosing the extent of its construction plans.
A Harvard University spokeswoman said the university does not comment on pending lawsuits. “The Smith Center project went through a significant public approval process, including more than 30 public meetings. Since then, Harvard’s mitigation office has worked closely with all abutting businesses and residents to help minimize any disruptions to the extent possible,” Brigid O’Rourke said in an e-mail.
When it’s complete, the Smith Campus Center will be the “dynamic center of University life,” according to its promotional materials. But getting there has been disruptive. Retailers have had to operate while traffic has been barred on Holyoke and Dunster streets for over two years, leaving customers with limited parking options and would-be foot traffic to tangle with cranes, dust, and incessant noise, according to store employees.
“It’s sort of a nightmare,” said The Andover Shop’s Harvard Square manager, Larry Mahoney, who complained that his interactions with the university’s appointed mitigation officer often fell on deaf ears. “It appears he’s been hired to keep us all quiet.”
Sales at The Andover Shop were down 20 to 30 percent due to the construction, or about $300,000 a year in lost revenue, according to Tim Sullivan, the shop’s financial overseer, who first became a customer in the 1960s, hitchhiking in from Lowell as a teen. “It’s very significant when you’re losing that much business a year,” he said. “It’s been painfully unfair, and they just don’t care.”
The plight of The Andover Shop has been shared by other nearby retailers, which say they’ve watched sales decline as the university pressed forward with its construction project.
George Papalimberis, owner of the 120-year-old La Flamme Barber Shop on Dunster Street, has seen a 20 percent drop in business and said he’s been barely able to keep his nine chairs full during construction.
He and others argue that the university could have done more to compensate local businesses for losses experienced during the construction. Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said the university’s construction company came to an agreement with the City of Cambridge to cover the revenue lost from parking meters along Holyoke and Dunster streets. She pushed to use those funds or to create a similar escrow account to help nearby businesses recoup their losses, but to little avail.
“It was clear from the beginning that the scope of the project was likely to have an impact on the businesses,” she said. “I don’t think a business can properly prepare for that, particularly a small business like The Andover Shop or a new business like En Boca.”
Harvard officials stressed that the construction was nearing completion and that the university had done its part to minimize disruptions.
“The Smith Center will be a state-of-the-art campus center that will contribute to the vibrancy of Harvard Square,” said O’Rourke, the Harvard spokeswoman. “The enhanced public spaces, new local retail tenants, and diverse programming will ensure that the Smith Center becomes a destination that attracts additional visitors and residents to the area.”
Davidson’s wide circle of friends, which include jazz greats and professorial legends, literati and sports icons, hope that The Andover Shop will still be part of that vibrancy by the time the building is completed.
“There are echoes of your past that you stumble across and you feel a level of comfort. You walk into The Andover Shop and it hasn’t changed,” said Geoffrey Precourt, a longtime editor who frequented Davidson’s salons back in their 1970s heyday. “It’s more than blazers and khakis.”
Davidson, ever the gentleman, demurred when it came to discussing construction concerns.
"Having a business like The Andover Shop meant I never once felt like I was going to work,” he said through an e-mail provided by his daughter. “I was in Harvard Square when the Holyoke Center was built. Now it’s the Smith Center. We have evolved with our customers.”