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Elected officials respond to sudden Friendly’s closings

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
The former Friendly's on James St. in Syracuse, one of the recent closings.

Fourteen Friendly’s restaurants across upstate New York closed abruptly over the weekend, including locations in Oswego and Syracuse. It was part of an overall 23 closings in the Northeast. Elected officials are responding to the closures.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the Friendly’s in Oswego has been around for decades. 

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
A statement posted outside the former Friendly's on James St. in Syracuse.

“I know I visited Friendly’s as a kid after sporting events," Barlow said. "We would have band concerts and go to Friendly’s after. It’s just a popular place.”

Barlow said from what he knows, employees were told the morning of the closing that they would be out of a job.

“That’s what makes this situation so unique and so traumatic for the employees of Friendly’s," Barlow said. "It’s how sudden and the fact that they weren’t given notice.”

Barlow is offering former Friendly’s employees the first chance at seasonal, temporary jobs working for the Department of Public Works, cleaning the marina and parks. He knows of at least one person who has taken up that offer. And he said the response has been positive from the community.

"You walk into a restaurant and you know the people who are waiting on you," Barlow said. "They're your neighbors, you went to school with them, some may even be family members. To know that they went into work and all of a sudden were told they were out of a job, hits home to a lot of people in the city."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Friendly’s made an awful decision hurting hundreds of workers with no warning.

“That is inhumane, it is cruel and it shows that some of these corporations just don’t care about their workers,” Schumer said.

He is calling for fines and penalties if Friendly’s violated the law and if they didn’t, he said the laws should be tightened.

A spokesperson for Friendly's said that employees were informed personally and the company is working to support them with opportunities at other locations or severance payments. Below is a letter sent to Friendly's franchisees by CEO George Michel.

Dear Franchisees: As we move into the second quarter of 2019, I want to again thank you for the valuable input and insights you’ve shared over the last few months as we accelerate efforts to reinvigorate the Friendly’s brand and chart a successful course forward in the face of shifting demographics and consumer preferences, increased competition, and rising costs. Amidst these industry-wide dynamics, our charge is to ensure our beloved brand not only remains relevant with existing audiences but continues to resonate with new generations of patrons and that our operations are structured to support long-term sustainability. While there’s much work ahead, we are encouraged by the momentum we’re generating. The energy and enthusiasm for the plans we unveiled at our February meeting was both gratifying and inspiring, as we seek to re-energize our marketing efforts with the addition of a new agency roster, refresh our menu, focus on delivery and catering options, and improve the overall restaurant experience for our customers. As we mentioned earlier this year, we initiated a strategic assessment of our corporate-owned restaurant footprint, with an eye toward ongoing viability and maximizing resource investment. In today’s environment, it is incumbent upon all restaurant operators to engage in such a process, but particularly so for Friendly’s, which, as an established brand, has locations in geographic areas that have changed dramatically in some cases since those restaurants first opened. After a months-long evaluation and careful consideration, we have decided to close 23 corporate-owned restaurants, effective immediately. While this was a tough decision, we are confident it will best position the brand for a bright future. Especially difficult is the impact these closures will have on the locations’ wonderful employees, who we are working to support with opportunities in other locations or severance payments and other assistance. The closed locations include 14 restaurants in upstate New York, three in Massachusetts, three in Connecticut, two in New Hampshire and one in Maine. A full list is included at the end of this letter. Following these actions, Friendly’s will have 77 corporate-owned restaurants and 97 franchisee-owned restaurants. Moving forward, we are committed to continuing to work closely with you to enhance the overall experience for our Friendly’s customers. Thank you again for your support and valuable input. As always, please contact me if you have any questions. Sincerely, George

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.