COLUMBIA — Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream dished out at least 3,000 scoops of free ice cream Wednesday to mark its 10th anniversary, coupling the celebration with an announcement — now open year-round.
Sparky's will be open Fridays, Saturdays and nice weather days in January and February, making the store one of a number of frozen dessert shops open all year in Columbia.
Sparky's owner Scott Southwick said he decided to keep the store open year-round because of business being "dramatically busier" this year and repeated requests from customers. Throughout the summer, Southwick said he saw lines out the door every night.
Other frozen dessert stores open year-round include Buck's Ice Cream Place and Andy's Frozen Custard.
"The cooler the temperature, the less demand we have, but I have people coming by to get ice cream when there's snow on the ground, and they walk out eating it," said Buck's Ice Cream Place manager Rick Linhardt.
Although ice cream is typically associated with warmer weather, a study by Franchise Direct, an online resource providing information about the franchise industry, found that the disparity between production in hot-weather and cold-weather months is becoming smaller.
In a 2011 CNN story about an ice cream store staying open during winter months, Ice Cream University president Malcolm Stogo said diversification is key to keeping a year-round ice cream business alive. Ice Cream University gives ice cream makers the chance to learn about the industry.
Linhardt said Buck's Ice Cream diversifies throughout the year by releasing several seasonal products. More sherbert is produced during the summer, while fall and winter specialty flavors include pumpkin, peppermint and eggnog.
Andy's manager Megan Ellis said the business offers seasonal items such as pumpkin pie custard and eggnog shakes.
"We stay busy enough during the winter months to make it worth our while to stay open," she said.
Sparky's has 15 to 16 regular flavors with eight to nine flavors constantly changing, Southwick said. He said he doesn't have particular plans for the winter months, though he has made eggnog- and pumpkin spice-flavored ice cream in the past.
"Nutella is the magic word," he said. "We are going to lean heavily on Nutella."
Other than unique ice cream flavors, Sparky's offers hot fudge, hot caramel and blended alcohol shakes, which Southwick said can keep customers happy in the winter if they don't want ice cream.
Southwick said he believes the best part of the adjustment Sparky's will be making is offering more hours to his employees. By offering year-round employment, Southwick can hold on to the employees he already has.
"My workers are battle-tested," Southwick said. "They are hard core."
Around 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sparky's had given away about half of its stock. Customers lined up throughout the day to receive a free scoop of flavors such as red velvet cake batter or green tea.
Ashley Dawson, 28, brought her 2-year-old daughter, Adalie, to Sparky's on Wednesday and said she believes she'll come back in the winter.
"We come every Thursday — it's not weather-dependent," Dawson said. "It's just a need for ice cream."
Dawson had just finished her scoop of vanilla bean, while Adalie still had blueberry-flavored ice cream smeared on her face.
Dawson sees having Sparky's open year-round as a blessing and a curse.
"I feel like it's trouble," Ashley Dawson said. "I don't need a reason to have ice cream every week, but I do now."
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