The Ice Cream Business Is Having a Rough Summer

Well, joy is canceled this summer

ice cream parlors
Like everyone and everything, ice cream is having a hard time right now.
Michel Stockman on Unsplash
By Kayla Kibbe / June 18, 2020 7:30 am

Hello and welcome to the Worst Summer Ever. The world is still grappling with a viral pandemic from which it seems increasingly unlikely to ever escape, the economy is in shambles and Americans are unhappier than ever before. Meanwhile, it appears even the ice cream business is having a bad time.

According to a recent report from Slate, things are not looking good for the cheery summertime staple, with some ice cream parlors reporting a sales decrease as sharp as 80 to 90 percent compared with this time last year. This is bad news for an industry that largely depends on a serious summertime surge in order to last through the winter months when many shops close or see a significant decline in customers.

You could trace the ice cream industry’s no good, very bad season back to last month, when a recently reopened ice cream shop on Cape Cod was swarmed by a mob of angry, quarantined customers in a chaotic episode that ended in the shop’s re-closure and a teenage employee’s resignation.

Things don’t seem to have improved much, due largely to most ice cream parlors’ inability to seamlessly transition to the takeout- and delivery-based models other restaurants are depending on amid the pandemic.

“The ability for ice cream store owners to keep up in a way that is both legally mandated and accepted by the community has been a struggle,” Steve Christensen, executive director of the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, told Slate. “Many shops are working twice as hard for half as much.”

Ice cream’s tendency to melt presents obvious challenges for delivery, as does the idea that going out for ice cream tends to be more about the experience than the ice cream itself. If you’re just going to have to eat your ice cream at home anyway, why go to the trouble of getting a takeout cone rather than just picking up a couple pints on your next socially distanced grocery run?

Nevertheless, ice cream parlors are forging onwards, trying to figure out how to optimize their businesses for this strange new era. As lockdown orders begin to ease (for now, anyway), various establishments are considering COVID-safe features like plexiglass, splashguards, socially distanced seating and occupancy limits in an attempt to keep the summertime tradition alive.

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