ROCHESTER — Friendly’s in downtown Rochester is closing, but those who work in economic development say that opens up a great parcel of property next door to the public library.
A spokesperson for Friendly’s confirmed on Tuesday that the iconic chain restaurant that was “founded on ice cream, built around families” will no longer remain open in the Lilac City.
“As shifting consumer demographics and market dynamics present challenges across the industry, it is incumbent on us to regularly evaluate our restaurant footprint with a focus on long-term viability and strategic resource investment as we work to re-invigorate the beloved Friendly’s brand. Unfortunately, in some cases, this process results in the difficult decision to close underperforming locations that can no longer be sustained by the local market,” Marie Espinel said in a statement.
The Rochester location is scheduled to close Feb. 9. Severance packages and transfers to other Friendly’s locations are being offered to employees.
With the Rochester closure, there will be only three Friendly’s restaurants in New Hampshire, located in Concord, Merrimack and North Conway.
Michael Scala, who is the economic development director in Rochester, said Tuesday that he is saddened by the loss of Friendly’s. Scala remembers going there in high school for ice cream with friends and says his parents still enjoy their food.
Scala said his office is concerned any time a business in downtown leaves, but he understands that the food industry is very competitive.
Scala said because Friendly’s is located next to the former D’Angelo sandwich shop location — which closed in November of 2018 — he can envision an investor who might create something innovative on those pieces of property, or another franchise moving in.
Both lots are in one of the city’s two Opportunity Zones.
“It’s an important piece of South Main Street,” Scala said. “If you put those two parcels of land together, it’s pretty big. It would allow you to put some pretty hefty investing in there if you so choose, depending on what you wanted to do there.”
Rochester officials have been working on downtown revitalization efforts for years with some recent signs of hope as a travel agency and seamstress shop opened this fall.
Friendly’s was established as an ice cream shop in 1935 by the Blake Brothers in Springfield, Mass. The company has shuttered a number of locations in recent years, including the Friendly’s on South Willow Street in Manchester.