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Friendly’s: A sundae, not a statement
EDITORIAL | Editorial
October 05, 2011
Friendly’s doesn’t have the fanciest ice cream, but that’s never been the point. Since the family-oriented chain was founded in Springfield in 1935, it’s been the backdrop of countless children’s birthday parties and teenage first dates. Especially when festooned with a cone hat and a candy nose and eyes, the ice cream at Friendly’s gave pleasure to generations of New Englanders, and the old-time look of the restaurants reinforced community values.
But a bad economy and management blunders, among other factors, have pushed the venerable chain to the brink of insolvency. Ice cream sales fell nationally with the economic downturn, and “casual family’’ restaurants are fading in popularity. Now Friendly’s is rumored to be considering Chapter 11 protection from its creditors.
The slow decline of Friendly’s coincided with the rise of another New England ice cream empire, Ben & Jerry’s – and their divergent fates says a lot about how consumer tastes have evolved as health awareness has grown. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is just as unhealthy as Friendly’s, of course, and it’s now part of a multinational conglomerate. But the Vermont company’s genius was to offer calorie-watching consumers what they most desperately want: an excuse. Sure, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is full of calories – but its founders share your deep concerns about Nicaragua.
At least there’s never been any such pretense about places like Friendly’s. And that’s something of value; hopefully New England can hold on to a chain where a cone is still just a cone, and not a personal statement.