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Alongside crocuses, robins and people dragging shorts out of their closets, one of the surest signs of spring in Maine is the reopening of ice cream stands all over the state.
Over the past weeks, classic dairy bars and artisan ice cream purveyors have been opening up shop in a dramatically altered world where face masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing are the rules of the day. For most, a takeout window means opening for business is a bit easier in the time of coronavirus, when many operations have had to install plex-glass barriers between customers and cashiers.
In Searsport, Stone Fox Farm Creamery began selling ice cream out of its new location on Route 1 near the Stockton Springs town line on Friday, offering up cones, cups and pints from its takeout trailer all weekend, as well as a “quarantine kit,” featuring three pints of ice cream and choices of toppings.
While its proper scoop shop at the new Searsport location is still under construction and isn’t quite ready to open, Stone Fox Farm has four mobile ice cream trailers not currently in use, so it was easy enough to get one of those trailers up and running.
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Kathy Chamberlain, who opened Stone Fox Farm 10 years ago with her husband, Bruce, said she was worried about how they would maintain social distancing in their parking lot, but said she was very relieved to see that people followed the rules very well.
“We’re already very safe with how we do things, and we put up a shield and all wore gloves and sanitized constantly,” she said. “And I was so worried there’d be a jam up in the parking lot, but the pace was very steady and everyone was really great about it. We had a fantastic opening weekend, given the circumstances.”
The Dairy Port in Bucksport opened for its 66th season on Saturday, serving up frozen treats to a crowd that started lining up well ahead of the 11 a.m. opening time. Staff had marked 6-foot spaces in a line that went down Main Street and up Elm Street, and after every transaction at the order window, the counter was wiped down. Owner Colin Meshey, who bought the business from longtime owner Larry Wahl earlier this year, said he thought business was even a bit brisker this year, compared to last year’s opening.
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In Knox County, Dorman’s Dairy Dream in Thomaston opened last week, also with 6-foot spaces marked out with traffic cones. In Liberty, John’s Ice Cream, a favorite stop along Route 3 between Augusta and Belfast, opened in early April, opting not to offer cones and sundaes this season, but to instead offer pints, quarts and ice cream sandwiches by phone order — and has started taking credit and debit cards, a first for the 22-year-old business.
“We’re also working on setting up a website so people have more choice and can order by phone and pick up the same day,” said John Ascrizzi. “We’re always grateful for our customers’ understanding and patience.”
Others, like Jimmie’s in Brewer and Spencer’s in Bradley, have been open for weeks already. Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop, a gelato and ice cream parlor in Surry, never closed, and earlier this year installed a pickup window to facilitate less contact during transactions.
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Still, others are hesitant to start scooping. Gifford’s Ice Cream hasn’t yet opened any of its five ice cream stands in Auburn, Bangor, Farmington, Skowhegan or Waterville. Wild Cow Creamery in Belfast hasn’t yet made a decision about opening for the season, either.
And while Mount Desert Island Ice Cream is planning on opening one of its Bar Harbor locations sometime in May, owner Linda Parker does plan to offer some unique menu items when it does, such as a new line of ice cream sandwiches, and cocktail mixes featuring some of their favorite flavor combinations — as well as a very special item in honor of the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control’s apparent love of a certain soft drink.
“In honor of Dr. Nirav Shah, we’re adding a Diet Coke float when we reopen in Maine,” said Parker, on their Facebook page, referring to Shah’s proclivity for drinking the beverages at his daily briefings on the pandemic in Maine.