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Profiles: Carl F. Barron '38

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Carl F. Barron '38

By Alix Roy ’07

If you’ve ever strolled through Central Square in Cambridge, Mass., chances are you have seen the Carl F. Barron Plaza, appropriately dedicated to the former owner of the square’s legendary Putnam Furniture store. The idea to start a furniture leasing business came to Carl Barron ’38 while he was a student at Harvard Business School. After observing the difficulty many students had finding decent furniture at an affordable cost, Barron took matters into his own hands and, as he calls it, “invented a whole new industry.” Putnam Furniture took off almost immediately and soon became the largest furniture leasing company in New England, evolving into a chain of six stores spread across three states. Despite his success, Barron never once considered deserting the city where the original Putnam Furniture store still stands today. “Five generations of Barrons have lived and worked in Cambridge,” he said in an interview with the Boston Herald. “I take pride in the city. It’s one of the best in the world.” The love Barron has for his city is certainly mutual. He is referred to by many local residents as “the Mayor of Central Square,” and anyone in Cambridge on any September 7th can expect to celebrate the official Carl F. Barron Day. In early 2001, after 61 years of owning and operating Putnam Furniture, Barron made the decision to sell the business to Cort Furniture Rentals, the largest such company in the U.S. But rather than sit back and watch as Putnam opened its doors to a new generation of customers, Barron became senior consultant to Cort Furniture, a position he will continue to hold until at least age 90. In his spare time, Barron continues to give back to Cambridge, founding and running numerous business associations that enhance the city’s commercial reputation. He is also involved with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and works closely with city officials on rebuilding and renovation efforts. His new “occupation” as a partner at CARU Associates, which deals in commercial real estate, begs the questions of whether Barron will ever know the true meaning of retirement. His stated plans outline a retirement beginning on his 100th birthday. By then, his list of achievements will probably demand a third edition of his autobiography, which Barron writes himself to record meaningful events in his life.

Posted February 01, 2006