Cafe Closes, and It’s Wave 2 of Gentrification in Somerville’s Union Square

Fred McCullough, 27, and Rachel Insinga, 28, both of Somerville, walk through Union Square.
Fred McCullough, 27, and Rachel Insinga, 28, both of Somerville, walk through Union Square. –Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe

It’s no secret that Somerville’s Union Square is a shining example of an up-and-coming Boston-area neighborhood.

With the arrival of gourmet doughnuts, nationally-lauded restaurants, a $1 billion redevelopment effort, and, in a few years, the Green Line extension comes a change in the neighborhood’s make-up. We’re talking, of course, about gentrification. In Union Square, along with other parts of Somerville near the coming Green Line stops, that has partially come in the form of big rent increases.

A common trope about urban gentrification is that the first wave is more bohemian—artists and creatives and graduate students who find a cheap area to live with easy access to the city. The second wave follows as those folks either grow up into full-time jobs, or the area develops around them to the point that it outprices them. That’s not always how it goes, but it’s certainly common.

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The announcement from a Union Square cafe that it plans to close follows the pattern to a T. Sherman Cafe (which had an amazing turkey club) opened nearly 11 years ago—around the time that Somerville was becoming a hot area. It’s closing, it says, because the folks who used to hang out all day just aren’t around on weekdays anymore—making it all the more difficult to pay the bills. In other words, Sherman was born of Union Square’s first gentrification wave, and is going out with its second.

Sherman announced it was closing on Facebook, saying in part:

There’s too much to be said in a social media post, but, basically, this past year we’ve been in rebuilding mode anyway. Sherman’s 10 years old, almost 11: that’s a long time in cafe years (which are longer than dog years, did you know?) Although we tried to punch it up with owls and stuff, the place needs to be redone; for that, money needs to be raised, and that in turn begs a bunch of questions, like, what kind of business should we be running, anyway? Not that we’re complaining. For a place opened on a shoestring, Sherman has lasted a long time, but there’s only so much mileage we were ever going to get out of that bathroom.

And Union Square has changed: when we opened, our neighborhood was graduate students and post-post-collegiate types (like ourselves actually) and a bunch of old hippies and Old Somerville. Many of you (us?) have stayed in Union, and God bless you, but you don’t have seem to have time to hang out in the afternoons anymore, because you’re gainfully employed! You’re coming in for breakfast and weekends are as busy as any cafe owner could wish, but the writing on the wall in Union Square is: brunch, bistros and booze. That’s cool, those are some of our favorite activities, but it’s not Sherman.

Sherman isn’t the first neighborhood company to say goodbye in recent years. Its Facebook farewell recounts some of the other restaurants that have bowed out in recent years as Union Square’s face has changed.

And Sherman, then, hopefully, will ascend to the firmament: the Union Square in the clouds, where it’s always a pretty great Saturday in May, a place where the rent is never risen and meals taxes are never due, and somebody is having a party later. You’ll find us next door to Tir na nOg, eat, Ronnarong, Macondo, Precinct, and PA’s before the wall came down, and that old Irish Eyes (but only for the karaoke).

The full goodbye is below:

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