Ice Cream ...
By TRISHA WALKER
News staff writer
I was headed into my freshman year of high school when Mike’s Ice Cream opened in 1986. It was a big deal — there weren’t a lot of places where kids my age could hang out, and having something downtown, across from the library park (that sold ice cream! In waffle cones!) really opened up options for me and my friends. We’d meet, grab a cone, and catch up on what we’d been up to that summer.
And it turns out that was the plan.
“In 1986, the only place for kids under 21 to go was Shari’s, so that was a huge motivation, to give the youth something to do,” said Cecily Kitts Diffin, one of the owners and managers of Mike’s Ice Cream and daughter of founders Mike and Tassie Kitts. “They wanted to provide an option for families and young people to go and hang out in an interesting, safe and wholesome — but fun — environment.”
The shop celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and what they’re most proud of is how little Mike’s has changed in that time.
“We’re proud it is 200 square feet and it’s been 200 square feet for 30 years,” she said. “Mike’s Ice Cream hasn’t really changed in 30 years, but boy, the town has.”
There have been some changes, of course, like the paint on the outside and the new climbing wall-slash-play structure constructed by younger brother Josh a few years ago. But it’s still a cash-only business — they average three $3 or $4 checks in the mail each day in the summer from people paying off their IOUs (“People always pay, it’s so funny,” she said) — and they still serve Prince Puckler’s Gourmet Ice Cream, a Eugene-based company that makes small batch ice cream with local ingredients and no artificial flavors or preservatives.
And the Kitts are still very community-oriented.
“My parents, and my dad especially, are so civic minded when it comes to this town,” Kitts Diffin said. “They are passionate about the youth of this town, and we make daily donations — like to the library’s reading program — but we feel such overwhelming gratitude to this community and this town. There’s no place on Earth like it.”
Each year, it takes a staff of 22 to run the store — and about half of those employees are high school students working their first-ever job. It’s such a popular summer job that only those with high grade point averages are hired — an incentive to do well in order to make the cut.
“It’s a great place and one of the most communal places there is,” said second-year employee Eliot Cain, a 2015 graduate. “Everyone is having so much fun, and the job is fun because we’re all working together at making it fun.”
Lucy McLean, a third year employee and fellow 2015 graduate, enjoys the blend of people the store gets each day. “It’s such a great mix of locals and visitors that come in, and it’s fun to talk to them all. I like seeing where people are from.”
To celebrate Mike’s 30th anniversary, the ice cream shop is planning an old-fashioned ‘80s block party, scheduled for Aug. 13.
And it’s going to be a big one. Oak Street will be closed in front of the businesses — Mike’s Ice Cream and Ruddy Duck — and there will be live music and free ice cream and beverages.
“We’re grateful to the city for letting us close Oak Street,” she said. “They let us sit in on a staff meeting to plead our case, to give this town a good party.”
Both Sixth and Fifth streets will remain open, she added — “It’s just literally in front of Mike’s and the Duck, so we can seamlessly move between the library lawn and the street.”
It’s a party planned with locals in mind.
“We obviously benefit from the tourist trade, but we have been sustained by this community for 30 years,” she said. “It’s a not-for-profit event — just an opportunity to say thank you for all the support we’ve received over the years.”
And a head’s up to ex-scoopers: Kitts Diffin wants “celebrity appearances” from all of you at the party. Leave a message with her at the shop for more information, at 541-386-6260.
Also at the party will be a new generation of Kitts’ kids. All of Mike and Tassie’s children — Cecily, Josh and McKinley (you might recognize that name from the local music group Flor — all of its band members worked at Mike’s at one time or another, and Kitts Diffin likes to think “we raised a band”) — grew up working at the store, and now their children are following suit.
“We’re growing a new flock of scoopers,” she laughed. “I was six years old when it opened, and I started working when I was 12. Now my 12-year-old works there.”
... And Lumber
By KIRBY NEUMANN-REA
Several hundred people attended the grand re-opening of Tum-A-Lum Lumber Saturday, checking out the refurbished store, eating some Wy’East Fire District barbecue, and trying their hand keeping stacks of boards aloft in lumber Jenga games.
It’s been 110 years since the company was founded, and 36 since the Hood River store moved to Highway 35 from the Fifth and Cascade location that is now Mike’s Ice Cream and Ruddy Duck.
A peek at the photographic Hood River History Blog shows that the lumber and hardware company had a presence at its current location as early as the 1950s, however. A photo shows “Tum-A-Lum” painted on the side of a large building about 100 yards north of the store, where Button Bridge is now. The sign was either storage or the building served as a billboard.
“We’re just excited to have it done, to have the remodel set, new product lines up and running for cabinets in our new show room, and our paint center,” said Store Manager Dana Cowart.
Customers can access product information in a way they certainly could not in 1980 or the 1950s: via electronic tablets, tied into the company-wide catalog, provided in each department.
“I’ve been here 28 years now, and seen the changes. It’s amazing, I’m speechless,” said Pam Webster, a former manager who still works at the store, and got a big cheer when she took her turn at the ceremonial lumber-cutting.
“What’s important to us is that the image of the company has been upgraded — this building was built in 1980, (and) very little has been done to it from an aesthetic improvement point of view over the past 36 years,” said Dave Ditmer, company CEO.
Cowart said, “We made a lot more efficient use of the space, we had a 50-50 split of warehouse and retail, and we carved out some warehouse area we weren’t using very efficiently.
“The crew did a fantastic job getting it pulled together the last few months,” he said.
“This is an outstanding improvement,” Ditmer said. “We’ve added 50 percent more retail showroom, and we have 8,000 more stock keeping unit items, and added five more employees to manage customer flow. There are improved efficiencies and layout in the yard, with two new yard racks,” he said.
“The market itself is a very good market, it’s a popular market for people moving into from an outdoor activity point of view, and we have many loyal customers who shop with us on a day to day basis, and from a competitive basis there are other options in town, with Krieg Millwork and Hood River Supply. We think we’re a complement to that, we think the three of us do a good job servicing the Hood River market and the surrounding area.”