There is a difference between fitting in and belonging. The Providence Planning Board for 249 Thayer Street approved the design, materials, and usage of the building because it fits in. The grand opening of its signature first floor restaurant, Shake Shack, came and went on March 22nd, 2019. The business has now been open long enough that the shiny new place is no longer so shiny. The spotless front door is streaked and smudged and the veined granite apron below the window has a coffee color stain that extends the length of one panel. People walk by and are no longer surprised that a building now exists in this space because it fits in. All signs signalling construction, impermanence or change have been eliminated. Even the Shake Shack frenzy has quieted to a background buzz. The address is becoming familiar to the Brown community. Students know that 249 is the new home of the Nelson Center For Entrepreneurship. The site that was once the source of a culinary splurge is now just a once in a while choice. The place needs longevity to achieve a collective sense of belonging. As long as the economy remains viable, The Nelson Center should come to belong within a decade, generating its own expectations and value. Shake Shack; however, has years to go to generate a nostalgia among graduates. The restaurant will need to build gravitas and dependability to belong here. There must be a generation that cannot imagine Thayer without Crinkle-Cut Fries for it to truly belong.
Shake Shack’s thin, white lettering is a curious choice, suggesting an intellectual pursuit or sophistication that the menu lacks. There is little indication that ‘Shroom Burgers and Crinkle-Cut Fries will become permanent staples. Even twenty-three-year-old Paragon lost its staying power last June. There is a transparency and apology to the sign that augers evaporation. In fact, the entire fog-colored building threatens to be absorbed by good taste and restraint.
As I stand in judgement, the doors fly open and a couple exits with a paper bag and pink-tinted drink. The smell of fried food wafts across the road, not pleasant in the era of heightened fear of frying. How will this survive among the vegans, yogis and meditators that comb the streets in this patch of privilege? It will rely on our inherent lack of self control with food and social groups and thick shakes.
I saw a building get born and noticed how every biotic being adjusted to its presence. First, resistance was displayed in the form of a stymied wind and an altered lane flow then discomfort as the noise of construction and sidewalk hindrances became a staple. Finally, a natural detente settled as room was allowed among the the people, nature and other buildings. 249 was welcomed to the neighborhood with balloons, ribbons and a proclamation!