Friendly's closes, one of 4 in New England to shut its doors
By Jason Rowe
VERNON — The Friendly's restaurant on Union Street in the Rockville section of town has closed its doors.
The restaurant, which had been at the same location for almost 45 years, closed this week, leaving a vacant building in an area of town that officials are hoping to revitalize.
Rockville Economic Development Director Neil S. Pade said while he is sad to see the well-known chain leave Rockville, he doesn't expect the location to remain vacant for very long.
Friendly's officials officially closed the restaurant at 8 p.m. Saturday because, in terms of customer traffic, the location was not meeting "Friendly's standards," said Lynn Bolton, public relations coordinator for the Wilbraham, Mass.-based restaurant chain.
Friendly's has operated a restaurant on Union Street since April 1961, Bolton said.
Pade said he was first made aware on Wednesday morning of the restaurant's closing.
After going to the Union Street building to confirm the restaurant's closure, Pade said, he phoned Friendly's corporate headquarters.
He, said he was told that the Rockville location was "under performing," meaning that it was profit-able, but not enough for the company to continue operating that property.
The 1,800-square-foot restaurant was significantly smaller than most modern Friendly's restaurants.
Customers sat in small booths that could tightly fit four adults. Booths were arranged in a U-shape.
The ice cream counter and kitchen were in the middle of the restaurant.
A renovation of the Rockville location was completed in May 1999.
The Rockville restaurant is not the first Friendly's to close in recent weeks.
The company also closed its restaurant in the Elmwood section of West Hartford, which had a setup similar to Rockville's.
And at least two more New England Friendly's locations — one in Andover, Mass., and one in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod — have been shut down in recent weeks, according to published reports.
It's not clear if the Massachusetts restaurants were of the smaller design found in Rockville and West Hartford.
Bolton said today that she could not comment on whether the restaurant chain was looking to specifically eliminate older, smaller locations.
"The building was older," Bolton said.
By early today, all the exterior signs on the Union Street Friendly's had been removed.
Workers could be seen moving refrigerators, tables, chairs, and other fixtures to the building's rear.
A typed sign on the restaurant's entrance informed customers that the restaurant was closed permanently, but that the chain's other Vernon restaurant, located on
Talcottville Road near Tri-City Plaza, would remain open.
The sign thanked customers for their patronage over the years.
Bolton said the restaurant's 32 employees were offered jobs at other Friendly's locations.
Pade said the restaurant chain owns the property and plans to sell the parcel. A marketing package is being prepared for the property, and Pade said he expects that the location will be sold to a new owner relatively quickly.
Pade said he has seven prospective restaurateurs who are interested in the property, and who have been referred to Friendly's corporate office and the restaurant chain's listing agent.
In recent months, Pade said, he has been working with a number of entrepreneurs who are interested in opening a restaurant in the Rockville section of town.
But the vast majority of buildings in Rockville are available on a leased basis.
Ideally, Pade said, restaurateurs look to own their buildings.
"I'm very thankful that they are looking to sell the property," said Pade, who added that the Friendly's corporation bought the property in 1983. "I look at it as an opportunity. It's an opportunity I would prefer not to have. It's a very well-known family restaurant."
This marks the third time in 14 months that a chain-owned restaurant has closed its doors in town.
In October 2004, the Bickford's family restaurant at 415 Hartford Turnpike abruptly closed its doors.
The 5,000-square-foot building has since been filled by the Chowdertown Restaurant & Grill, which relocated to Vernon in May from Manchester, where it had been since 1995.
In February, Bennigan's Grill & Tavern at 343 Hartford Turnpike also abruptly closed.
A note on the door at the empty restaurant cited "economic conditions" as the reason behind the eatery's sudden closure.
The property has been the subject of a foreclosure proceeding and the 4,500-square-foot property continues to sit vacant.