SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — It’s “licking good’ this year at Brickley’s Ice Cream Shop in Wakefield where over 40 flavors are back as well as harmony with customers, said owner Steve Brophy.
Just last year — several months into the COVID pandemic requiring masks and social distancing — Brophy closed Brickley’s in Wakefield. Tensions rose with a few customers fighting back against COVID restrictions. What a difference a year makes, he said.
“From a staffing point and customer base, it’s great to be back. The customers have been super. Without them, we don’t have anything,” the owner said following his annual re-opening less than a month ago. He sells there over 35,000 gallons of ice cream in a season.
Brophy added that some local customers “worried we wouldn’t reopen, but I intended to and we did.” He has also brought back the milkshakes, sundaes and assortment of flavors curtailed in 2020 to speed up service and reduce lines.
Popularity of the Store
Lines routinely form on many days — especially hot ones — at this Main Street ice cream depot. For local residents as well as vacationers and tourists, it’s a go-to spot for that cold and sweet yummy relief whether ice cream, yogurt and sherbet.
Like warming temperatures in the last few weeks, Brickley’s opening beckons thoughts about the returning summer season. It’s a harbinger of better business times after winter doldrums and a promise that the seaside community will soon fill with tourists and vacationers.
Some customers have summed up this iconic, 28-year-old store this way: Brickley’s is summer and summer is Brickley’s. Besides the Wakefield location, Brophy owns another on Boston Neck Road in Narragansett. It will open in May.
Well aware of the institution his store has become, Brophy said he has put in safeguards this year to limit staff contact with customers and to keep operations running smoothly.
They are, in essence, new outside ordering windows in Wakefield and Narragansett to prevent people from standing shoulder-to-shoulder inside, especially at the Wakefield shop’s Main Street location.
“We’ll miss some of those personal conversations, face-to-face we used to have. We really enjoyed it. That’s the reason we set our shops up the way we did. We could smile and say, ‘How are ya doin’?’” Brophy remembered briefly.
On the other hand, fewer direct interactions will help reduce confrontations with people inside failing to wear masks or keep a safe social distance from others.
The state has still not relaxed those requirements that pertain to businesses like Brophy’s.
Last Year’s Closing
Brophy said last July, some patrons yelled obscene comments at staff over being asked to follow social distancing, and was concerned an altercation could turn physical.
Brophy told The Independent this week that he has no regrets about shutting the Wakefield store last July. The decision brought overall about a 45-percent reduction in business revenue for the year, he said.
“My wife and I had a long conversation. If we need to hire a cop or bouncer to run an ice cream businesses, we’re not doing it. And that’s ultimately what made the decision in Wakefield,” he said.
With some time passing now since closing abruptly last summer, Brophy said he also understands how tempers could flare with the many changes COVID restrictions brought to summer vacations.
“Tourists and vacationers come into town for a week. They spend a lot of money for that rental, they’re spending a lot of money to go to the beach, and they’re spending a lot of money at local restaurants,” he said.
“They’re trying to get the most out of that one seven-day period as they can. They lose their patience a bit,” he added.
He wasn’t the only New England store to face this issue. Just two months earlier the owner of a Massachusetts ice cream parlor closed its doors. It happened one day after reopening when angry customers mistreated a teenage employee.
Mark Lawrence, who for 19 years operated Polar Cave Ice Cream Parlour in Mashpee, a small town on Cape Cod, had waited to reopen his shop under the state’s strict restaurant guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing.
This year, according to a pre-recorded message on his phone, he’s having trouble finding help and has had no applicants. He explains the jobs available and notes he cannot open without filling them.
“No one wants to re-open as soon as I do,” he said to any caller listening to the message.
A New Season
Brophy said, however, that he expects that his new season to be easier than last. He already has hired his staff, who range in age from 16 years-old to those in their 20s who manage and supervise his operations.
In this new season, he said, some loosening state restrictions and people becoming accustomed to wearing a mask and social distancing will make operations smoother to run.
In addition, he believes that his new system will work well for everyone. Both Wakefield and Narragansett stores will have outside order windows rather than inside counter service. The menu is displayed in a large poster at front window and again in a small size at the order window, he explained.
The order will be printed on tickets. These are given to staff to fill and then a staff member will use a side door to hand-deliver the order to the customer waiting outside, he explained.
In the past, all this was done inside the store. This streamlining, Brophy said, will cut down the amount of direct customer contact or need to remind people inside about masks and social distancing.
“It’s different and we’ll miss that part about being inside talking to customers,” Brophy said.
“For us, we live here in Wakefield. We have raised out kids here and we still have one in high school. We know people, if not by name, but by face. We’re all in this together,” he said.