It was important for Danger!Awesome to be in Central Square. "We saw the space open here, and it was ideal. This corner is the heart of Cambridge, in many ways. If there had been an amazing place in the North End, we may have winged it, but I don't know if this fits there in the way that it fits here," Mohammad says.
"I cannot get away from Central Square," says Mazen, who lives a block away. "It's very close to MIT, where I have roots. It's very close to Harvard. The Red Line goes everywhere I'd like to go."
Mohammad lives in Kendall, near the Google offices, but he loves working in Central Square. "Here, there's a lot of that same kind of fun, forward-thinking creative energy [as in Kendall], but it's also a little gritty," he says. "And at one point or another, everyone from the greater Boston area will walk down Prospect Street."
But this wasn't always the case. A lot of what Central Square is today started when Joseph and Nabil Sater Habib took over a Middle Eastern restaurant in 1974. In 1987, they started booking shows.
"It was a little, tiny small space on Brookline Street," Nabil recalls. Back then, he says, "Every single building was broken, boarded-up, and scary-looking. But the neighborhood has always been warm and friendly."
"It's not as mixed as when I first opened, because that was when rent control was still going," says Brooks Morris, owner of vintage-kitsch emporium Buckaroo's Mercantile, across the street. "At the time, there were more musician-y, artist-y types around because they could still get apartments for cheap."
Morris has run Buckaroo's out of Central for about 10 years, with a brief stint in Inman Square in the middle of his tenure. His clientele, he says, has always been a mix of neighborhood families, students, and musicians. "And Central Square has tons of crazy people. Some are professional crazies," he says. "Every so often, someone will come in who's completely batshit insane. There was a woman who came in here a few weeks ago when I wasn't here who was wearing a pair of granny panties and nothing else."
Buckaroo's Mercantile came in on the last wave of gentrification, when a number of student-centric stores like the now-gone Pearl Fine Art Supplies and bars like the Field and Phoenix Landing opened in a neighborhood economy strengthened by the Internet boom.
Back then, Central Square was more of a destination for the young and artsy.
THESE ARE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD Central Square owes much of its character to businesspeople like Angela Sawyer of Weirdo Records (above), Ali Mohammad and Nadeem Mazen of Danger!Awesome, and Jack Brown of Jax's Liquidation Outlet.
"There was a stretch of record stores all along here," says Angela Sawyer. Her experimental-music emporium, Weirdo Records, is located on the most westerly end of the neighborhood. Where record stores once led the way into Harvard Square, a row of tony furniture showrooms have supplanted them.
Sawyer, a Denver transplant, loves her adopted neighborhood. "I don't think I could be anywhere else," she says. "When I'm walking from the T, I look around and think everyone is just like me. But, of course, nobody is just like me — I own an experimental record store. But you know what I mean."