Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Cambridge is a city of 101,587 people, but it can feel like the smallest town in the world. Tonight, for instance, the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee will meet for two hours mainly on the “discussion of requested variance to replace Gas With a Smile with a Hess station and convenience store,” which follows the hour or so of discussion on the topic June 16 by the Porter Square Neighbors Association and precedes the Board of Zoning Appeals tackling the subject tomorrow.

With the gas station owner’s retirement and sale to Hess, auto repairs will be replaced by the minimart, which the 1,660-site chain wanted to be (as with gas sales) a 24-hour, seven-day operation. None of this excited the neighbors, and the “garish” design of the station put more teeth on edge. But what really blew it for the Hess crowd was their rejection, and ignorance, of Zipcar.

The Hess station will have 13 parking spaces; none were intended to be rented for Zipcars.

This local car-sharing business says it has about 40,000 members, people who can’t justify buying a car when there are Zipcars scattered around for use by the hour or day. The company also says it’s profitable, even announcing Monday that it secured $10 million in venture capital to expand to the West Coast. Its cars at Gas With a Smile, a utilitarian gray Jetta and boxy white Scion B, seem as popular as the company. On June 16 they prompted a barrage of questions that had the Hess team staggering like a boxer blinded by blood streaming from a cut on his forehead. Not only did the executives, architects, lawyers and engineers not see the blow coming; they were forced to suddenly realize they’d risked their entire attack. When a Hess exec admitted he didn’t know what Zipcar was or how it worked, the entire assembled association stiffened into a baleful silence. The statement just hung there.

Finally, Simon Shapiro, of Tag’s Hardware, suggested gently that “I think you need to learn more about blending in with Cambridge.”

We’ll see what’s been learned tonight at 7 at the North Cambridge Senior Center, 2050 Massachusetts Ave. A Gas With a Smile worker said today that the Zipcar spaces will stay when Hess takes over; a representative at Zipcar’s Cambridge headquarters, however, knew nothing about it.

“They haven’t mentioned anything to us yet. It wasn’t even our understanding Hess was buying the station,” she said. “As of now, those pods are pretty secure.”


eric said...

Boxer cuts come below the eye. Foreheads don't bleed in the ring. :)

Scape7 said...

So where do foreheads bleed? Used-car lots? Telephone booths? I'm pretty sure that if you hit someone on the forehead and break the skin, it bleeds no matter where you are. I'm also pretty sure that sometimes foreheads get hit in boxing rings and bleed and that not all the blood is diverted by the eyebrow.

At least in Hollywood, where "Ali" and "Cinderella Man" lace up.

Indri said...

They're talking about expanding to the West Coast? Up here or down south? Because up here, they'd be in competition with City Car Share (which I just joined, in part because I was so impressed with Zip when you showed it to me in March.)

CCS has expanded--they have some pickup trucks, which is great, and last week I drove a Prius, which was very cool. 99 miles to the gallon!

Scape7 said...

Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., so get ready for a little competition for CCS.

Brian Wanamaker said...

I recall a similar incident in Santa Cruz, when Crown Books wanted to open a Super Crown on the main drag's outdoor mall. They faced constant opposition from not only the local, non-chain bookstores, but most of the local hyper-leftist population as well. When they could not prevent Super Crown from opening, they did manage to prevent them from installing a fluorescent backlit plastic sign that is the hallmark of mini-mall banality; such signs are against city regulations. Super Crown opened, operated for about a year, then closed its doors, re-opening a few months later as the new home of Palace Arts, a crafts/stationery/art supplies store that is unique to NoCal, iirc.

Then a year later Borders opened just down the road. It was as though they'd snuck in while /everyone/ was watching the Crown Books follies.

Scape7 said...

The Hess station probably will go through. You're right: The big companies have learned pretty effectively how to game the system.

We'll see what happens with the Board of Zoning Appeals tonight.

Suspense! Tension! Brace for a posting!

Michael Scott Moore said...

Look at those fucking gas prices.

3jake said...

Those gas prices look great to me, I am paying 2 buck fitty to fill up in Oakland.