Gus Louras outlasted most of his peers.
Sam Frank Inc. already was one of the longest-serving businesses in the city when Louras, who died this week at age 95, purchased it.
Louras was shining shoes at his father’s shoeshine parlor, and Sam Frank, who had bought Lew Abraham’s tobacco store in 1933 — was a regular customer. Louras went to work for Frank at 15, and Frank soon began grooming him to take over.
When, exactly, Louras bought the store appears uncertain. Louras himself has said 1952, his daughter has put the year at 1951, and the Rutland Herald reported the sale in 1953. Frank kept working at the store for more than 20 years, noting that his protégé was only his second employer in his life — the first having been his own father.
“He was a hard worker,” said John Tuepker, who became a close friend later in Louras’ life. “His work was what he did mainly. It’s what he loved. He was the one that stamped the cigarettes — every time, every carton.”
Louras also was active in his community — perhaps more so than many people realized.
“The flag up at the park — he put that up in honor of his brother,” said Dick Smith, another longtime friend. “He bought — not just the flag, but he bought the pole and had the pole installed. ... Gus was a very generous person. Gus did a lot in this community that most people didn’t even know about.”
His community activities included donating trophies to local school sports tournaments, serving on a number of fundraising campaigns, as president of the board of trustees at St. Nicholas Church, and as a corporator of the Rutland Savings Bank.
In the early 1970s, Louras was one of the downtown merchants credited with improving the appearance of Center Street, which had gained a reputation in the 1950s as being “seedy” and “run-down.”
In the 1980s, he let his children begin to diversify the business, branching out into a number of different products. Sam Frank’s name lived on as a candy distributor, while the store became Gus’ Tobacco Shop and continued to operate until his daughter closed it at the end of 2018.
In 2010, Louras sued the city over flood damage to his building despite the fact his son, Christopher Louras, was the mayor at the time. The elder Louras was adamant that his son no longer had anything to do with the family business.
“We got rid of him when he ran for mayor,” Gus Louras said at the time, adding, “there cannot be politics involved in my business.”
Tuepker, a retired Rutland City Police officer, said he was not sure how long he and Louras had been friends.
“I don’t do years — it’s been a long time,” he said. “I gave him a ticket and the captain was not happy I gave him one. The captain marched me over there, we talked and had a cigar, and we were friends ever since.”
Smith said he met Louras because they both frequented the Rutland Restaurant.
“He started buying his automobiles from us,” said Smith, who worked at Sewards Ford at the time. “I smoked cigars, so I got my cigars from him.”
Until Louras’ health began to take him away from the family business, the trio of Louras, Tuepker and Smith could be found many afternoons at the table in the middle of The Coffee Exchange, discussing issues of the day, occasionally snaring and drawing in passers-by.
“He was called ‘Mr. Rutland’ when he was in business downtown,” Smith said. “He was the mayor of Center Street. He was very generous — there were a lot of things, but he was reluctant sometimes to talk about it.”