WILBRAHAM, Mass. (WWLP) - It's been an institution in Western Mass for 76 years, but now Friendly's, based in Wilbraham, Mass., is facing major financial difficulty. The restaurant chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is closing 63 locations across the Northeast, including 5 in western Mass. The current owners, Sun Capital Partners, also plan to sell the corporation.
The manager of the Friendly's on East Street in Chicopee Falls has been working at the restaurant for 33 years. She started as a waitress. Fighting back tears and too emotional to go on camera, she was forced to tell her 'regulars' they would have to start their morning somewhere else.
Walter Heath used to go to Friendly's for breakfast, "It's disappointing that they had to close."
Customers heading to the Friendly's location on Route 20 in West Springfield were greeted with locked doors and signs that have been posted telling them the restaurant is closed permanently. "I think it's pretty sad. It's one of my favorite restaurants and it's within walking distance to my apartment, so I'm going to miss getting my hamburgs and ice cream," said Steve Baszak of West Springfield.
The financial moves comes just two weeks after the company launched a major new ad campaign vowing 'friendlier' service and cheaper meals.
Some former customers say they're not surprised to hear the chain is struggling. "You go in there and you stand there and you could stand there forever and they could have ten, fifteen employees working and nobody turns around and says 'Hi, I'll be right with you' or comes to help you," said Beverely Hosner, "they were in a business to serve. It's turned into a corporation and they're not in business to serve anymore."
But for those who want to go to Friendly's, it's a sobering reminder of just how difficult it is to survive during these tough economic times.
Friendly Ice Cream Corp. says it has secured $70 million in financing and that its 424 remaining restaurants will stay open and pay employee salaries and benefits as it reorganizes under bankruptcy protection. Friendly's now employs about 9,000 workers.
Gift cards will continue to be honored.
Its current owners, Sun Capital Partners, will be the lead, or "stalking horse" bidders, in an auction process.
The company filed for bankruptcy protection at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.
The following Friendly's have closed permanently in western Massachusetts.
- East Street, Chicopee
- Federal Street, Greenfield
- Wilbraham Road, Springfield
- Route 20, West Springfield
- Main Street, Ware
For a list of the Friendly's closures across the Northeast click here .