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After 18 years behind the counter at Louie’s Superette, Cheng-san Chen is stepping down as manager and owner, and he is handing over the popular convenience store to new leadership.
“It has been a privilege to serve the Harvard community for the past 18 years,” Chen said, speaking from his customary spot at the register, Chinese newspaper in hand. “It was time to leave Louie’s in the hands of someone willing to commit the time and energy that will make the store thrive.”
Chen said he signed the purchase agreement with the new owners on Friday and is in the process of finishing the paperwork to complete the transfer of ownership. He said the transfer should be finalized in the next month.
Chen would not name the store’s future owners, but says he has agreed to stay on at Louie’s as a “free consultant” for a month or two during the transition period.
“I want to stay until this class of Harvard students graduates,” Chen said. “They are going to graduate, and in a different way, I am going to graduate, too.”
The past year has posed many challenges to Chen and his business, including a 12-day suspension for selling alcohol to minors, an armed robbery, and reports of a substantial decline in sales.
According to Chen, the sale of alcohol accounts for 50 percent of the store’s revenue.
Chen said Saturday that he believes Louie’s Superette can improve its services to the Harvard community.
“I’ve had ideas for expanding services,” Chen said, “but I don’t have the energy to commit to making the changes.”
Chen’s ideas for improvement of Louie’s include accepting credit cards, adding fresh groceries, offering take-out Chinese food, and offering DVDs for rental. Chen said he has been pitching these improvements to the new owners in the hopes of improving services for Harvard students in the future.
“The new owners will expand store hours and provide better services for Harvard students, which is what I want,” Chen said. “I enjoy working in the Harvard community and interacting with Harvard students, and I want them to have the best services possible.”
Chen, whom many students refer to simply as “Louie,” has become a mini-celebrity on campus due to the popularity of his establishment.
“I am sad to know that he will be leaving,” Catherine L. H. Matthews ’07 wrote in an e-mail. “It’s always nice to see him, and his store is part of the Mather/Harvard community. I knew about ‘Louie’ before I even came to college.”
Of course, some students are just relieved the store won’t disappear for good.
“Although ‘Louie’ is a great guy, ultimately I just want a place to buy some beer,” said John H. Jernigan ’06, a resident of DeWolfe and affiliate of Dunster House. “He was something of a mythological figure to some students—he had a PhD and there were rumors of independent wealth—but as long as the new owner continues to sell beer and wine, it doesn’t make much of a difference to me.”
Chen says that in his retirement, he hopes to use the financial security he has attained to travel.
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