Businesses Well Lived: Harding House
Harding House was a lovely place for visitors to stay, starting in 1997. Here’s the history of how this business came to Cambridge.
“The community of guests, employees & community partners is much bigger than the owners. [Although Harding House is no longer in operation] we are grateful to still be in the business of hospitality. We love it.” – Business Owner Rachael Solem, Harding House and Irving House
Tell us the history of your business.
We purchased this Victorian house in 1996. It was in sad shape and needed all kinds of work. In the fall of 1997, we opened the 14 room inn. For 23 years, Harding House accommodated thousands of visitors to Cambridge, becoming a home away from home for many. Its first floor became a gallery for local artists. We hosted wedding groups, student groups, families of neighbors, business visitors, and families visiting Cambridge for its cultural delights.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
With the shut down in March of 2020 and cancellations coming in before that, we knew we could not survive the economic effects of the pandemic. In July, we made the hard decision to sell the house. We found buyers who wanted to convert the 18 rooms into a single family house for their extended family. Twelve employees, many of whom had been there since the beginning, lost their jobs.
How does Cambridge change when small businesses close?
We recognize the loss from the guests who relied on Harding House to accommodate them in familiar and comfortable surroundings whenever they came to town. Harding House supported several theaters, and non profits in the area, and engaged in partnerships with restaurants and stores. All of this is gone.
Describe what a “great day” at your business looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aromas of quiche and coffee, the bustle of guests with newspapers and quiet conversations, planning their days, filled the morning. Guests would request maps or suggestions for restaurants for lunch or dinner. Checking out, guests may need boarding passes printed or would book their next visit. Housekeepers would replace the game pieces in the parlor, put new paper in the typewriter, where guests could write their own comments on the mid-20th century model. On Thursdays, we set up wine and cheese service in the evenings. When a new artist brought their work, we would hire a jazz trio for the opening of the show.
How have your customers interacted with your business through the pandemic?
We have gotten many messages from guests and offices, all very sad to hear the news.
What is the most vivid memory you have to share about your business through the pandemic?
When the employees came to take what they wanted from the house, as we were selling it empty. It was a sad, hard stretch of days, and we had to keep physically distant while we worked to remove furnishings, exchanged greetings, and said goodbye.
How do you want your business to be remembered?
A lovely house that served the traveling community well for more than two decades.
What is something you want people in the future to know about your experience?
We developed Harding House with the experience we got from developing Irving House. And the sale of the house at 288 Harvard Street is funding operations at Irving House so it can survive the pandemic.
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