Although Sawyer opened shop three years ago, at the height of the current recession, amid the downfall of most of the retail music industry, she's still going strong.

"It's good being small," says Sawyer. Half her sales are from a strong Internet business; the other half are foot traffic and those making a special trip. "I get a lot of customers from Germany," she says. "I have no idea why."

Weirdo Records and Buckaroo's Mercantile are just two of a dozen independently owned businesses that make up the character of the neighborhood: there are two bookstores, another record store, a hardware store, a fetish-gear store, two art-supply stores, and a shoe store that caters to dancers and women with large feet. Or, as the Red Ribbon Committee puts it, "Harvard Square has a 'shopping mall' feel, while Central Square has a 'mom-and-pop store' feel."

What will happen to these shops when famous architects design mixed-use buildings for tech companies? Will the influx of high earners and high-end retail leave any room for experimental records and large-sized shoes?


CENTRAL, SQUARED

"One thing that came up [in the Red Ribbon Commission] is how Central Square is unique in the greater Boston area as a place where all races and types of people feel like they belong here and they own it," says Ken Reeves. "This is quite unusual here in greater Boston."

Of all the small-business owners I spoke with, all shared Reeves's view. And all, it seems, are right — at least for the time being. So what is Central Square? For now, it remains a mix of people and places from every economic strata — one whose balance is about to change. In our next installment, we'll look at the factors that will change it.

Eugenia Williamson can be reached at  ewilliamson@phx.com.

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