Main Spotlight: Holy Cow...We Just Started an Ice Cream Shop

May 14, 2019 | Main Spotlight: Holy Cow...We Just Started an Ice Cream Shop | By Rob Biggs, Executive Director of Saco Main Street
Photo credit: Aaron Scott

As Forrest Gump once quoted: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’” Or maybe that was ice cream!

Saco Main Street, located in a small coastal community in southern Maine, wasn’t planning on getting into the ice cream business. That quickly changed when the owners of a local seasonal ice cream shop retired and decided to donate their equipment to the Main Street program. Owners Jan and Don McGarva were grateful for what the Main Street program had done to support their business over the last few years and wanted the shop to remain on Main Street in Saco.

"We had been thinking about ideas to create a different mechanism of financially supporting our Main Street program while creating a vital community gathering spot, but just weren't sure what it would be," said Rob Biggs, Executive Director of Saco Main Street. “With this donation, the light bulb went off and we quickly jumped in the deep end and opened The Saco Scoop.”
Photo credit: Saco Main Street

In less than 60 days, not knowing what they didn't know, Saco Main Street decided to open a community ice cream shop in a habitually empty storefront to create a vital center of activity and a community information center. Armed with a $20,000 line of credit and a couple of volunteers, the Main Street program got to work building an ice cream shop that looks like you took a step back in time. Butcher-block counters wrapped in crisp white wainscoting support Mason jars full of brightly colored toppings. The blackboard menus on the wall highlight the 35 flavors of sweet goodness The Scoop offers. Historic photos of downtown grace the walls of the shop, tying today to the past. The Saco Scoop also takes advantage of its unique position to promote other businesses through an informational kiosk equipped with brochures and business cards, providing referrals while drawing more people to the downtown.

Rob’s vision was to create a welcoming business that would be fun, energizing, and a great place to go. “Kind of like ‘Cheers’ except with ice cream,” he said. It has evolved to just that. In its first nine months, The Saco Scoop had over 25,000 people come through the door. “Nobody comes in who isn’t either happy or wants to be happy, and we serve up smiles all day,” said Rob.
Photo credit: Saco Main Street

Since it opened its doors, the Saco Scoop has created one full-time position and twelve part-time jobs. Saco Main Street has partnered with the local high school and is providing work opportunities for their special education Functional Life Skills students. “We are proud of the Scoopers we have here and have worked hard developing their people skills and they have responded.”

With only five-star reviews, the main theme in the comments is how friendly the staff is and how you never see them with a cell phone. The “Scooper” has become a coveted job with the local high school students and they have exhibited exceptional imagination creating treats such as the Saco Taco, the Unlawful Waffle, (a beast starting with a Belgium Waffle, three scoops of ice cream, bacon, maple syrup and homemade whipped cream) and a frappe called the Lucky Leprechaun (think arches and shamrocks, only better!).
The Saco Taco, one of the many scrumptious treats offered at the ice cream shop. Photo credit: Saco Main Street

Each month, The Saco Scoop has a Frappe of the Month with flavors like “The Peep” with its pastel colors topped with the iconic “Peep,” or “The Twinkle” made with Caramel Maine Sea Salt ice cream and garnished with a Twinkie on a skewer.

Another idea from a Scooper was to have a doggie walk-up window. Since it was installed, the shop has served over 600 “doggie sundaes” with a dog treat on top. They also feature a daily Facebook post called “Scoop Dog of the Day” – a big hit of the town with everyone wanting their dog pictured. Dix_-_Copy.jpg

In order to make it through the Maine winter, The Saco Scoop had to sell more than just ice cream. The Saco Scoop has partnered with the Maine Correctional Department to buy and resell through their Corrections Industries’ wooden toys, cribbage boards, decorative bowls, cutting boards, and baskets woven with rope supplied by lobstermen. Additionally, Saco Main Street solicited products from local crafters, being very careful to not duplicate offerings that other shop owners on their Main Street sell. The Scoop has local honey and maple syrup for sale, all produced within 15 miles of the shop.

“One of the lessons we have learned,” said Biggs, “is that anyone can sell ice cream in August. It takes a little ingenuity to do it in January!” As sales shrunk, they rolled up their sleeves and came up with new ideas. The Scoop hosts birthday parties (with visits by characters like an eight-foot-tall T-Rex or a favorite princess), church game nights, networking groups, “Story-time at the Scoop” with local celebrities who read beloved children’s books, and even a baby shower! People have also come up with their own ideas -- in April, The Scoop had a family host an event in memory of their mom and dad. The family gave a scoop of ice cream to the first 150 guests and had crafting tables for kids. This coming summer, there will be live music in the adjacent pocket park that Saco Main Street revitalized last summer with new sod, hardscape, park benches, and potted flowers.

Photo credit: Saco Main Street

In addition to creating a unique alternative source of revenue for the Main Street organization, the program wanted to show the benefits of staying open longer into the evening (Saco Scoop is open from noon until 9:00 p.m., seven days a week) and push other local businesses to do the same. As foot traffic has increased, other merchants have taken notice and are extending their hours. There is now life after 5:00 p.m. on Main Street.
Photo credit: Saco Main Street

Social media has been the key driver to get the story of The Scoop out to the market. Initially, Facebook was the primary driver with daily posts about specials, events and of course the “Scoop Dog of the Day,” but Instagram has recently taken the lead and is quickly growing in followers.

As time goes on, all profits from The Saco Scoop will support Saco Main Street's mission, but the real reward is what this little scoop shop has done for its downtown, one smile at a time!

About the author:
Rob Biggs is the Executive Director of Saco Main Street and loves ice cream. When he moved to Maine in 2015, he joined the Board of Directors two months after arriving in Saco. The Executive Director position was filled by an interim director at the time five months later he accepted the position. “I love the people and the potential of our town and I wanted to have an impact on its future.” Biggs said. Prior to moving to Saco he was the Senior Managing Director of Project Management for CBRE’s Central Region based in Chicago.