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After a nearly two-year hiatus, Cheng-san “Louie” Chen plans to return to the Square and take back control over Louie’s Superette, the renowned convenience store near Mather House that he owned for 18 years.
Chen’s return comes after a month-long legal battle with the current manager of the store, Pritam “Tony” S. Saini, whom Chen alleged had failed to pay rent and hadn’t met Chen’s standards for running the store.
“I would love to bring the store back to the way it was,” said Chen. “I’d like to go back to being a part of the Harvard community, and seeing the students again.”
In late March, Chen took legal action against Saini for failing to make payments on a $130,000 loan and four months’ worth of rent.
And last week a Cambridge District Court judge gave Chen the go-ahead to begin the process of taking back possession of the property, which is located across from Mather, on the corner of Flagg and Banks Streets.
“The store is open, but it’s not in good shape,” Chen said before the court handed down its ruling. “The inventory is low, and not nicely done. If I take it back, I have to fix a lot of things.”
Saini confirmed that Chen might soon take back ownership of the store, but declined to comment any further.
The property is currently in the process of being returned to Chen, but it is unclear when it will open back up for business, according to Frank Frisoli, Chen’s lawyer.
During the time that Chen ran Louie’s Superette, the store earned a reputation as a popular campus convenience store with a philosophizing owner—as well as for being cited for selling alcohol to minors.
“Louie’s Superette was one of the popular stores in the Harvard community,” Chen wrote in an e-mailed statement. “I want Louie’s Superette [to keep] its reputation as it used to be.”
It also earned a place in local tradition. Mather’s annual “Louie’s Cup” takes its name from the superette. According to Chen, when he left the store in 2005, students jokingly urged him to deliver a speech at Commencement.
NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
Chen, who received masters and doctorate degrees from SUNY Buffalo, first arrived at the superette in October 1987. The store was originally going to be a way for Chen’s brother-in-law, fresh from abroad, to earn a living despite having little knowledge of the English language.
“I was an engineer when my wife’s younger brother came to the U.S.,” Chen said. “We tried to find something to keep him busy and earning income. When finding a partner didn’t work out well, I helped take over. Harvard students loved it so much, I decided to stay.”
Eighteen years later, after a major fire in 1993 that nearly destroyed the store, several armed robberies, devastating financial losses, and numerous court battles bent on shutting it down, Chen—and Louie’s—was still there.
“The store means something to me,” he said. “Making money is not my first choice. If you do the job right, the money will come. Making a profit is not my principle.”
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