Harvard Square Store Owners, Homeless Population Follow Unspoken Agreement

When asked if the homeless might have deterred customers from coming in, Allen said, “We have families coming up, and they’re often, you know, it’s just a lot of bad language, drinking, and smoking.”

Allen said that a few aggressive panhandlers have threatened his employees. In one incident, which he reported to Cambridge police, a panhandler demanded money from a worker and claimed that he had a knife.

Due to the incident, the store now has an overhead light in the back, a buzzer system that locks the back door, and more regular police patrols, Allen said.

Nonetheless, Allen identified the cases as rare and said that he has only called the police on a few occasions since Otto’s opening in 2011.

For business owners and the homeless, there is an unspoken agreement regarding panhandling at storefronts. Paul J. MacDonald, owner of Leavitt and Peirce, said that panhandlers usually sit between stores so that they do not block the display windows.


On a Sunday afternoon, Harley, a 19-year-old, self-described “gypsy,” was panhandling outside CVS Pharmacy on Mass Ave.

“I haven’t really moved since about 10 a.m. and they haven’t come outside to yell at me,” she said.

Harley said that CVS and other Square establishments were generally “okay” and said that she has only seen panhandlers be scolded by business owners for “something really stealing.”

Davie, who prefers to be identified by his last name, usually spends the whole day outside of Harvard Book Store. In an interview in February with The Crimson, he said that he has a good relationship with the store owner and the staff.

“I keep the place tidy when I leave,” he said. “It wouldn’t look like I was here at all.”

—Staff writer Sonali Y. Salgado can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SonaliSalgado16.

—Staff writer Caroline T. Zhang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CarolineTZhang.


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