BRATTLEBORO -- Bickford's Family Restaurant, located on Putney Road near the Exit 3 Rotary, abruptly closed its doors Wednesday afternoon. The closure came with no warning, said employees, and was a shock to the more than 20 people who worked at the restaurant.
General Manager Sarah LaBarre, of Keene, N.H., said she wished she had an opportunity to inform loyal customers.
"I just feel bad for all the customers that we had grown so close to," she said.
Bickford's has been at the same location in Brattleboro for 16 years, said Nicole Bonnette, of Hinsdale, N.H., who was a waitress at Bickford's for nine years.
Bickford's has restaurants in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"I know as little as everyone else," said LaBarre. "The owner came in at one o'clock in the afternoon, and that was all the notification we got."
They said the owner told them she was closing without prior notice to prevent theft, vandalism to the building and people not showing up to work.
"We would have worked up until the last minute, but I guess they didn't believe that or trust that," LaBarre said.
A call to Bickford's corporate offices was not immediately returned.
The closure of the Brattleboro restaurant marks the end of Bickford's in Vermont. The number of Bickford's restaurants has been dwindling, and currently there are only a total of two locations in New Hampshire (Salem and Nashua) and seven in Massachusetts (Acton, Burlington, Leominster, Brockton, Woburn, Needham and Braintree.)
When the Keene, N.H., location closed several years ago, LaBarre, who was a shift supervisor at the time, transferred to Brattleboro with several of her co-workers.
Five or six years ago, the restaurant used to be a much more popular spot, with people waiting in line at the door every weekend and six or seven servers to accommodate the crowds, LaBarre said.
"Now we have four servers," she said. "I know it has a lot to do with the economy itself, but it's weird to see the change."
Despite its prime location near the Interstate 91 off-ramp, the restaurant had trouble attracting diners, LaBarre said.
"Some people looked at it as a breakfast place, not as a place for lunch and dinner. We had fresh seafood, but people didn't know about it," she said.
LaBarre said when the Enfield, Conn., and Westfield, Mass., locations closed in late October, she tried not to think about her restaurant being closed, too.
"It spooked us, but we were assured that nothing was going to happen (to us)," LaBarre said.
"I wish I would have been less naive now ... it's hard because we really enjoyed our job so much, and we were hoping it would stay open. It would be one thing if we were miserable at our jobs, but we all loved it and wanted to keep it going."
"We all had an inkling it was going to happen, but of course, we were all trying to be optimistic," agreed Bonnette, who said waitressing at Bickford's was the second job she ever held; she started when she was 18.
"I loved that job, mainly because I like waitressing but also because of the customers and, most importantly, my coworkers. They are what kept me wanting to come in every day," said Bonnette. "I made good money and it was a good job."
LaBarre said she is concerned for her employees, who she said "built their lives" around the income they earned at Bickford's and the expectation that their employment there would continue.
"And then there are people like one waitress who has been there for 16 years, who people literally come in just to see," LaBarre said.
She will miss the regular customers as well, she said.
"There is an elderly man who comes in every day to get coffee -- those little relationships we built over years and years, and in one day it's gone," she said.
Jaime Cone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.