Get Tasty Top treat while you can

Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014
I can guarantee that with Father’s Day being two days away, ice cream is in my future.

As everyone in my family knows, I am a certified ice cream fanatic. And Father’s Day is officially open season on ice cream.

Some of my best summertime moments come when I head for the ice cream stand. For me, on Father’s Day, it’s been a place where families can satisfy that generation-to-generation experience of getting a cone with dad.

Eating ice cream from a good old-fashioned ice cream stand on Father’s Day is as New England as picking apples and pumpkins in the fall, visiting the maple sugar shack in March and taking a toboggan down the hill in winter.

Summer without at least one visit to an ice cream stand, well, it just wouldn’t be summer. It would be like heading down to the beach without devouring a lobster roll, or visiting the Cape and not playing a round of mini golf.

I once read a newspaper article that said in New England more people will stand in line to buy ice cream than will stand in line to vote. I believe it.

Like a campfire by the lake, like Joe Castiglione on the radio, a New England ice cream stand defines summer. And that is why hearing this may be the last summer for Easthampton’s Tasty Top leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. Worse is the news that it’s eventually coming down to pave way for a big box supermarket.

Sure, to some people, the Tasty Top may be just another ice cream place. And, in ice cream crazy New England, God knows there is plenty of the cold stuff to go around. There are still a number of independent ice cream stands in the region, many of which make their product using dairy from local farms, and that’s a great thing.

In fact, within five miles of where I live in Florence, there are at least five ice cream stands, and I will make sure they get my business. And townfolks in Easthampton can still get frozen treats at the wonderful Mount Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream on Cottage Street.

But what I lament is that when the Tasty Top and its cool cone sign comes down, a piece of New England will come down with it.

Like many New England towns, Easthampton has a beautiful mountain backdrop, old mills as well as a revitalized and repurposed mill, a downtown with character and attractive specialty stores, a bike trail, and a prep school. What it won’t have now is an ice cream stand — and that’s too bad for dads and kids on Father’s Day and throughout the summer.

I could go on and on about the evils of big box stores. I firmly believe that Easthampton doesn’t need a Stop & Shop, but who am I, from Northampton, to lecture Easthampton about suburban sprawl and overcommercialization when we have King Street to look at? Besides, Stop & Shop and its lawyers won the fight and life goes on.

I also realize that with a Burger King next door, a McDonald’s, CVS and Dunkin’ Donuts nearby, this strip along Northampton Street isn’t exactly a Norman Rockwell scene. But would it hurt the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company LLC to build around the Tasty Top and keep what’s left of an old-fashioned New England tradition for the people of Easthampton?

But alas, supermarkets don’t do ice cream stands. For Stop & Shop, which last year closed several of its stores in New England for not achieving “performance goals,” I’m sure it wouldn’t be a good business decision. It’s not good marketing. It’s not effective brand management.

But say, Mr. Big Box Supermarket: why not think out of the box on this one? Can’t we have our supermarket and our landmark ice cream stand, too? For a New England-based supermarket chain, retaining the ice cream stand with the Stop & Shop name would be a public relations coup — and make for pretty neat community relations, too.

I drive past the Tasty Top on the way home from work just about every late afternoon or early evening. I love seeing young families with kids in strollers waiting for a cone, teens crowding about, and older couples studying the list of selections. Where else can you smile and chat with strangers for the cost of a cup or a cone?

It’s retro. It’s nostalgic. It’s sentimental. It’s unique. It’s New England, and people who have lived in Easthampton a long time know it’s special. Enjoy it while it lasts, and when it closes for good, know that it will be missed. Insert heavy sigh here.

Easthampton stands to lose a revered ice cream stand after this summer or next. It’s been a place where generations of families pulled up in cars to satisfy their summertime craving for sundaes and cones, a spot where memories were created. Instead, a supermarket goes in its place. That’s a major brain freeze — and I’m not talking the kind created by an icy treat.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a monthly column that appears on the second Friday. He is the communications director for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.