By Arielle Dollinger
On a sunny summer Sunday, Northport’s Main Street is overrun by little girls in sundresses and little boys with missing front teeth waiting in line for ice cream. Their parents are not far behind.
There are four frozen treat vendors on Main Street: Lics, Rocking Horse Ices and Ice Cream Treatery, Northport Sweet Shop and Harbor Trading.
Around the corner, on Woodbine Avenue, is Wolfie’s Custard – a shop which its owner made clear is not an ice cream shop.
“We’re a completely different product,” owner Maureen McGrath said. “My product is egg-based, so it’s less fattening than ice cream is, it’s got less sugar. It’s actually better for you than ice cream is.”
And the Main Street vendors have made similar statements: each vendor said that his or her shop offered something that customers could not get at any of the neighboring competitors.
Lics owner Cliff Mossey makes many of the shop’s ice creams and all of the shop’s gelato and Italian ices.
“We have the largest variety in town, for sure,” he said of the 21-year-old shop’s 76 flavors.
When asked about his competition, Mossey said that it makes him better.
“You have to stand out,” he said.
In the gelato case are flavors like Mint Oreo, Rainbow Cookie, Tiramisu, Pina Colada, Mud Slide and the new-this-year Blood Orange Raspberry Almond. The fruit flavors come out in the summer; the heartier nut flavors come out in the fall. The shop is closed for the winter.
Several doors up the road, within the pink-and-white-striped walls of Rocking Horse, husband and wife JoBeth and Hal Meltzer operate their own ice cream business.
“I think there’s room for everybody,” she said of her competition. “It just kind of depends on what you want.”
Rocking Horse is new to Main Street, operating in the space that was once Incredible Ices. When the Meltzers purchased the place last July, they changed the name and made some renovations. Hal has been an ice cream distributor for about five years. JoBeth has a background in interior design and also worked as a weight loss consultant before purchasing the ice cream shop; the irony is not lost on her.
“I went to the dark side a little bit,” she said.
The shop sells its favorite brands of ice cream, Schrafft’s and Sedutto, which JoBeth said are brands that the other village ice cream shops do not carry. Rocking Horse also carries Corona Ices from the Lemon Ice King in Corona, L&B Spumoni and is the only ice cream shop in town to carry Mini Melts.
“Ice cream is fun,” JoBeth said. “Nobody can be unhappy when you have ice cream… It just says happiness.”
Customer preference often relates to age, JoBeth said. The kids like the Superman ice cream; high school-aged boys seem to like the milkshakes (popular flavors include Mint Chocolate Chip, Cookies and Cream, and “Hotel Blackbottom Pie” : a vanilla-based ice cream with a chocolate fudge swirl, pieces of vanilla cake and chocolate cookies, coconut and chocolate chips).
The shop’s mascot, a rocking horse that has been in JoBeth’s family for about three decades and now resides in the store, goes by the name “Ridley Oliver” – a name determined in a naming contest the store held.
On the other side of the street, the Northport Sweet Shop makes pistachio with pistachio nuts, said owner and former Mayor Pete Panarites.
“Our motto, my father’s motto,” he said, “was… ‘Serve the best quality you can find, best quality of ingredients, and even if you have to charge a few pennies more, you’re better off serving people that way.’”
His father opened the shop in 1929, and Pete, 73, has been serving ice cream since he was 13 years old.
The competition, he said, affects everyone. But people come in for his ice cream.
“Everybody’s cutting everybody else’s throat around here,” he said. “I got my clientele and, of course everything cuts into you… Same thing with restaurants, same thing with pizza parlors.”
Northport Village code does have a “300-foot rule,” which Village Clerk Donna Koch said states that “you can’t put a restaurant within 300 feet of an existing restaurant.” Still, a business can appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals for permission to put a restaurant in a retail store or the like.
“You’ve got to be good to survive this atmosphere today, besides the economy being bad,” Panarites said.
And yet, the Northport Sweet Shop has been around 85 years.
Back on the other side of the street, candy store Harbor Trading is a relative newcomer to the ice cream competition: the shop added ice cream to its selection of sweets about four years ago, according to owner Jane Fontaine. The cases are filled with a brand of ice cream called “Giffords,” handmade in Maine and distributed to Long Island.
The flavors have Maine-centric names like “Appalachian Trail” – a banana-based ice cream with honey-crunched cashews and chocolate flakes – and “Lobster Tracks” – vanilla ice cream with lobster-colored chocolate caramel cups and a swirl of éclair cream filling. Others among the 24 flavors in the shop are Maine Black Bear, Campfire S’mores and Maine Wild Blueberry.
“Everything is referenced to some of the activities in Maine,” said Fontaine, who grew up in Maine and today lives in East Northport.