After last week's Harvard Task Force meeting, a Harvard employee told me that I was crazy for thinking Harvard could do more to create the Western Ave "Main Street" with retail and service-oriented business that might be frequented by Allston residents. We should accept the quiet non-profit tenants like Earthwatch because, in this tough economy, Harvard really can't find any tenants with more public relevance.
This is a nice story for Harvard to tell, but it also isn't true. There are small, locally-owned retail businesses constantly opening, expanding, and relocating in the area. Whether or not Harvard could make offers attractive enough to lure them to Allston I don't know, but the possibilities do exist.
For example, there is an innovative restaurant owned by a Harvard grad. Last year they were considering opening a restaurant in the CITGO station on Western Ave. That fell through, and last month they opened a restaurant in Harvard Square.
This small ski and sporting goods store recently moved from Comm Ave near Newton Center to Needham Street. An another sporting goods store in Watertown is also moving to a new location.
Maybe these businesses or others like them would never be convinced to move to Western Ave, but it also isn't clear how hard Harvard is trying.