Hampden: Here’s the Scoop on the Ice Cream Shoppe

by Larry Krause
       Vince Cuffari wants to turn the clock back 20 or 30 years for Hampdenites. As a former resident, he remembers when Hampden families would walk the Avenue. During the summer on these family walks, they would often have for their destination an ice cream parlor. But until recently, this was but a memory.

        That changed in September, 1999, when Vince opened The Avenue Ice Cream Shoppe at 900 West 36th Street.

         Vince owns the building, which formerly housed a barber shop. When the barber retired, Vince considered and rejected some prospective tenants. Out of his sense of history and a commitment to the community, he didn’t want to rent to a tattoo parlor or a social meeting hall or a drug rehabilitation center.

        Not satisfied with these choices, Vince, his wife (who grew up and lived much of her life in Hampden and Medfield) and a friend were talking about what business they could open in the spot and decided to open an ice cream parlor. “We wanted families to be able to walk down the Avenue to do something together, and to do something locally, instead of driving off to a mall,” he explained. “An ice cream shop could do that.”

         The hand-dipped ice cream is Breyers and Edy’s, which Vince states are the number one and two best-selling brands in the state. He offers about 20 flavors. The Avenue Ice Cream Shoppe also sells 4 flavors of Italian Ice and a few varieties of soft ice cream. Snowballs are also sold. Besides cones, Vince makes sundaes, banana splits and shakes. He says, “We pride ourselves on serving healthy portions at affordable prices. I wanted to gear my prices so that a family of four could go away with cones or whatever for between five to eight dollars.” For the health-conscious, he has some sugar-free and fat-free offerings.

         Vince figures he puts in between 60 to 70 hours a week working at the shop and managing the apartment house he owns next door. He has some part time help occasionally.

        With no special training in ice cream retailing, he states “I learn as I go along.” His efforts are paying off. “Hampden has been responsive to this endeavor,” he says. “We are seeing new faces every day.” He enjoys talking with older residents who tell how things used to be in the neighborhood.

         Vince explains his philosophy of life and business: “It’s not just to make money, but to have fun and to have your customers have fun.” To him, fun and ice cream go together. “Ice cream is a happy food,” he says, “and we’re putting a lot of smiles on people’s faces here.” He’s observed that when the neighborhood kids come in, they are usually well behaved.

         Because of his business, Vince finds he is more involved in the community. He’s part of the merchants’ association and is active in specific community issues, like keeping the fire station in Hampden. Vince is also interested in encouraging Hampden’s young people to continue their educations.

         Bringing back an old tradition to Hampden goes along with the wood frame building itself, which Vince and his wife bought in 1992. They’ve traced it back at least as far as the 1890s. They believe it could date from the 1870s because of the Dutch siding beneath its cedar shake shingles. Many businesses have been located here, starting with a coal and wood store.

        Now, instead of products to produce warmth, the building has come full circle to bring Hampdenites treats for cooling off.

        The shop opens at noon seven days a week and remains open until nine or ten o’clock, depending on the weather.


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This story was published on June 28, 2000.