S. Prestley Blake, co-founder of Friendly’s and a humanitarian who supported local causes and in his spare time built a world class car collection and a full-sized replica of Jefferson’s Monticello died Thursday. He was 106. His niece, Holly Thrasher Schroeder, announced the passing on Facebook.
“Our family could use your prayers now…..my dear Uncle Pres just passed 2 hours ago, at age 106. The end of a legend! Co-founder of Friendly Ice Cream, along with his brother, my Uncle Curt, who we lost in May 2019, he will be sorely missed! We love you, Uncle Pres!,” she wrote. “Godspeed and please give Gram and Grandfather and Uncle Curt a HUGE hug and kiss for me! Until we get there, take care of them for us!!!”
Brothers Curtis and S. Prestley Blake built Friendly’s from a single ice cream shop in Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood into a chain with 850 restaurants at its height.
Curtis died in 2019 at 102.
“We worked very closely for 43 years,” Pres Blake said at the time . “I counted on him to make important decisions.”
They’d founded the business in the summer of 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression. Curtis was 18 and Pres was 20. Their mother, fearful that they wouldn’t find jobs, loaned them money to get going.
The concept of an ice cream shop — one where the ice cream was made in a storefront and double-dip cones sold for a nickel — was new, and the Blakes drew inspiration from a shop on North Main Street in Springfield. They believed they could compete with drug store soda fountains, where single-dip cones sold for 5 cents and double-dips for 10 cents.
Their first shop was located at 161 Boston Road.
The Blakes opened at 7 p.m. to a line about 100 feet long. Their price point for a double-dip cone appeared to pay off; there was no line at the drug store down the street. They kept their store open until midnight, selling 552 cones in five hours. The take was $27.60.
For years they shared a car, a used Model A Ford they bought for $40. They were able to share the car because they rarely had time off, and almost never at the same time: one brother would work nights making ice cream, and one would run the shop during the day.
Blake was a throwback, a businessman who eschewed debt and preached hard work.
He’d often talk of lessons learned from J.C .Penney, the man not the department store company.
Blake remembers the most important lesson he learned from Penney, who died in 1971, was by example.The Blakes were guests in Penney’s home. When dinner was served all the guests filed out of Penney’s living room into the dining room. Penney stayed behind and when the last person left, switched off the light in the living room.”It cost him just a few cents to run that light, but he never wasted money,” Blake said.
Blake regaled audiences for years talking about how he and Curt built the business.
The Blakes introduced grilled cheese sandwiches because many Catholic customers went without meat on Fridays.
The Awful Awful? It meant awful good and awful thick. The Blakes used the name for their milk shakes with permission from an ice cream company in New Jersey, and then gave the moniker up when they started opening Friendly’s locations in the Garden State. Then they started calling it the Fribble.
In 1979, the brothers sold their chain to Hershey for $164 million. Blake said that Hershey’s decision to sell Friendly’s in 1988 to the Tennessee Restaurant Co. for about $375 million was a bad one. That high price saddled the company with debt and made it impossible to keep growing, he said. Ownership has changed in the years that followed.
Blake and his wife, Helen, had a daughter and a son.
The S. Prestley Blake Law Center of Western New England University’s School of Law is named for him, as is Blake Student Center at Northfield Mount Hermon School.
He donated $2 million to Springfield College and had Wilbraham Hall renamed as Herbert P. Blake Hall in honor of his father.
Blake wrote a book “A Friendly Life” in 2011
“The thing I want people to take away from this book is the need for business ethics,” Blake once said. “The most important thing is honesty.”