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Head of the Charles Brings Crowds to Harvard Square Businesses

As the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta welcomed thousands of athletes and spectators to Cambridge over the weekend, business in the Square boomed.
As the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta welcomed thousands of athletes and spectators to Cambridge over the weekend, business in the Square boomed. By Aiyana G. White
By Ellen M. Burstein and Sydnie M. Cobb, Crimson Staff Writers

The Head of the Charles Regatta, an annual crew pilgrimage to Harvard Square, brought more than 250,000 spectators and 11,000 rowers to Cambridge this weekend to take in the sights and sample local businesses’ offerings.

The event is the world’s largest two-day regatta and the third-most attended event in New England annually, and often is one of the Square’s most lucrative weekends of the year, according to local business owners.

The Head of the Charles Regatta organization estimates that the regatta generates more than $55 million in revenue for the Square and its surrounding areas each year. A report published by the organization in 2018 revealed that the average person spent $321 over the course of the two-day event.

Several local business owners corroborated these statistics with anecdotes about increased sales and foot traffic.

Lush Harvard Square, a cosmetics store, saw a 36 percent increase in foot traffic compared to other weekends in October, according to manager Donovan Smolenyak.

Jason Xavier, the manager of Lizzy’s Ice Cream, said the increased sales reflected rates that the shop usually only experiences in the summer.

“On Saturday, we saw about $1,500 in sales. Typically, around this time of the year on Saturdays, we usually see $700, $800, maybe $1,000,” Xavier said. “Sales of $1,500 are more like summertime sales.”

Denise A. Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that a main challenge for local businesses is vendors selling merchandise near the river. She said that practice can distract spectators and risks keeping them from shopping at Harvard Square establishments.

Over the weekend, vendors on the banks of the Charles hawked Brooks Brothers Jackets, maple sugar-based energy drinks, and $22 lobster rolls to eager spectators.

Jillson noted that Harvard Square nonetheless tends to attract an influx of clientele during the Head of the Charles weekend.

“I think in fairness, people do love to come into the Square to walk around shopping, you know, see what's going on. So we welcome that and we encourage it and do everything we possibly can to make sure that people do walk up into the Square from the river,” said Jillson.

Laura Verrochi, the manager at Zinnia’s Jewelry Shop, added that the Head of the Charles brought a slight increase to their usual customer base.

“It definitely seemed to increase sales Saturday and Sunday a little bit, but it wasn’t anything too chaotic or insane,” Verrochi said. “It increased our business by maybe, like, 50-100 people.”

Other Square employees commented that the regatta not only increases foot traffic for their businesses but alters the demographic of their patrons as well.

Mark Lamphier, the store manager of Harvard Book Store, said that while weekends are always a busy time for the store, the Head of the Charles tends to attract younger clientele than usual.

“Weekends are already busy for us because we are still getting lots of tourists — you know, the mom, dad, and kid from Iowa,” Lamphier said. “Certainly, the Head of the Charles makes our weekend foot traffic skew a little younger. Some of them were buying books for courses at their various colleges, but we were also selling a lot of literary fiction.”

Elizabeth K. Doran, a bookseller at Grolier Poetry Book Shop, said that the influx of patrons allowed her to connect with and exchange ideas with new visitors.

“One family came and stayed for a long time talking about poetry and all of the poets that have come through the Grolier over the decades,” Doran said. “We love the Charles Regatta as it is an exciting part of the history of Harvard Square.”

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

— Staff writer Sydnie M. Cobb can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cobbsydnie.

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