It may seem counterintuitive that Mainers want to eat ice cream when the temperatures dip below zero and the snow piles up, hip deep.

But we are tough, and no amount of cold, ice or snow is going to keep us from indulging.

Chloe Dubois works the counter at The Ice Cream Shoppe of Oakland. Unlike other ice cream places, The Ice Cream Shoppe stays open in the winter months. “Mainers are so tough, we eat our ice cream all year,” Dubois said. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

I came to this conclusion while driving around Monday after the weekend nor’easter that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in Waterville. Cruising west on Kennedy Memorial Drive, I stopped at The Ice Cream Shoppe of Oakland, a large, new-ish building.

“Do people really eat that much ice cream?” I asked myself, out loud.

Turns out, they do, and the huge parking should have offered me a clue.

I stepped inside to a spacious, light, airy dining area with high wooden ceilings and walls, long tables and two young women behind the counter. A giant sign featured the names of dozens of ice cream flavors served in cones, dishes or as part of parfaits, sundaes, banana splits and other treats.

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Customers were buying cones and ice cream pints packaged in paper bags. Most were opting to purchase them at the drive-thru window.

“We’ve been busy enough to stay open,” said a cheerful Chloe Dubois, who was working the counter with another young woman. “We have our drive-thru that helps a lot, so people don’t have to get out and walk inside.”

We got to talking about ice cream and Dubois, 19, seemed very knowledgeable about not only that, but also about the business itself. It turns out, she is the niece of owners Tina and Rob Gardner, who also have ice cream shops in Skowhegan, Randolph and Farmington.

“Skowhegan was the first one that opened, by my grandmother, Donna (Parlin), on North Avenue,” Dubois said. “We’ve been open more than 30 years. We just opened this one in July.”

Depending on the weather, a steady stream of ice cream enthusiasts visit the shop, which typically is busiest between 5 and 8 p.m., according to Dubois. Some are regular customers of the Gardners’ other shops, she said.

“Mainers are so tough; we eat our ice cream all year,” Dubois said. “People will come in when it’s snowing and say, ‘The snow doesn’t stop me from getting my ice cream.'”

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If it snows a lot, like it did again Friday, the shop will close to protect both workers and customers who drive, she said.

“Last summer we were super busy here — we had eight to 10 people working, plus my aunt and uncle, and we were busy the whole time.”

When the pandemic started more than two years ago, business at the shops may have slowed a bit, but now people love getting out of the house for a treat, Dubois said. I asked her why she thinks Mainers like ice cream so much, a question she answered thoughtfully.

“I think it’s just like, maybe a warm memory for them,” she said. “They say they came to the shop as children. They had good memories there, growing up, so maybe that’s what makes them keep coming and bringing their kids. There’s not many places around to get ice cream this time of year, people are saying, so it’s nice to get their fix.”

Dubois has her own sweet memories of growing up in Skowhegan and spending time with her grandmother at the ice cream shop. It was, and continues to be, a happy place where employees, whether related or not, are like family and love what they do.

“We always have Christmas parties,” she said. “A lot of our tip money is donated so at Christmas we go shopping. We adopt families from the schools, and the children, and buy them Christmas presents. And we adopt nursing home residents from Gray Birch in Augusta and we buy them presents for Christmas, too.”

Dubois glowed as she described how, because the ice cream business is so popular, her family and employees are able to pay it forward.

“We’re all pretty close,” she said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear in print Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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