From the Editor: A Loyal Following
As our world spins toward what seems an ever more uncertain future, the people and places that offer stability and familiarity can be a source of real comfort. And if these places also are a source of real comfort food, well, so much the better.
Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, a staple of Hanover’s South Main Street for 70 years and the subject of this month’s cover story by contributor Lynn Luczkowski, is just such a place.
Opened on April 11, 1947, by Hanover native and World War II veteran Lou Bressett, Lou’s has changed hands just twice in seven decades: Robert Watson bought Lou’s from Bressett in 1979, and Toby and Pattie Fried took over 25 years ago, in 1992. Since then, they have been serving up hot coffee, big breakfasts and eye-popping — for some, perhaps, button-popping — baked goods.
The place has a tremendously loyal following. Many diners visit several times a week. There’s often a line, and it often stretches out the door. Dartmouth alumni return again and again. Even the online restaurant reviews — usually a swamp of negativity — are overwhelmingly positive: “If you’re visiting Hanover, breakfast at Lou’s is a must!” “Service is warm and friendly here,” and, “Wife had a coconut cream pancake which she would not share with me.”
Of course, a few found fault. One reviewer even complained about the chocolate fudge cake she ordered, saying it was “too sweet.” Go figure.
What inspires this kind of loyalty? A good product, sure. But also honesty, attentiveness to the needs of customers and employees, and lots and lots of long days. “Yes, it’s hard work, but we see ourselves as stewards of this landmark institution,” Pattie Fried told Luczkowski.
I worry, though, that loyalty to these kinds of Main Street institutions is waning and that we’ll all end up paying the price. Dozens of small, independently owned retailers in the Upper Valley have closed over the last five years, in part because consumers continue to embrace e-commerce behemoths like Amazon.com. A recent analysis by The Washington Post (which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos) reported that nearly half of adults actually prefer to purchase goods from the internet.
So what? So … everything.
Since 2000, an astounding 46 percent of all department store jobs have vanished, The Post reported. Between 2013 and 2017, America’s clothing stores lost about 64,000 jobs. From January to June, general merchandise retailers, such as Sears and Macy’s, saw 31,000 jobs disappear. Some 60 percent of all those jobs were held by women.
When a local business closes — for whatever reason — it doesn’t just leave another empty storefront. It often leaves families in economic crisis.
Lou’s is likely safe for now — until Bezos figures out how to deliver coffee and coconut cream pancakes by drone. But lots of other local institutions could use a little more of the kind of loyalty that Lou’s has cultivated.