In "The Minister's Black Veil," what does the congregation's attitude toward Hooper seem to have been before the appearance of the veil?
The sexton refers to him as "'good Mr. Hooper,'" and another old woman says that he has "'changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face'"; both of these descriptions seem to imply that he was liked and respected prior to donning the black veil. People must not have found him "awful" before at all. He had a reputation for being a "good preacher" though he was not particularly "energetic." He is described several times as being "mild" in manner and address, rather than being a more fire-and-brimstone kind of minister. Now, the narrator says,
None, as on former occasions, aspired to the honor of walking by their pastor's side. Old Squire Saunders, doubtless by an accidental lapse of memory, neglected to invite Mr. Hooper to his table, where the good clergyman had been wont to bless the food, almost every Sunday since his settlement.
Therefore, we can ascertain that, before the veil, people wanted to be close to their minister. They wanted to walk with him and to have him over to dinner. They must have felt that he was quite holy and undeniably good. Now, however, they fear his black veil so much that they stop trying to walk with him and forget to ask him to dinner. He was obviously respected and thought of well by his parishioners.
You are right in pointing towards the massive transformation that occurs in Mr. Hooper after he dons his black veil, both in terms of his appearance and what others make of him. However, to consider how he was viewed before he decides to go through this change, you need to look towards the beginning of the story, where the narrator clearly outlines his standing in the community where he ministers:
Mr. Hooper had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: He strove to win his people heavenward, by mild persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither, by the thunders of the Word.
Thus we can see that although Mr. Hooper had a good reputation, he was not famed for the power and vivacity of his preaching, but rather known for his mildness and gentleness. Of course, the black veil changes radically his position in the community and the effectiveness of his job as a minister, as people come to identify their own fallen nature in his black veil.