City takes hard look at soft-serve ice cream stand
BY BOB OKON email@example.com July 5, 2013 10:04PM
Updated: August 8, 2013 6:58AM
The Rich & Creamy ice cream stand has the historic Route 66 highway in front of it and the bucolic setting of an arboretum behind it.
But it also could have some trouble ahead as Joliet city officials begin to think about whether they want to put any money into the aging building they acquired in the early 2000s as part of the Broadway Greenway project.
Part-owner Bill Gulas, who started working at the stand 38 years ago, says it’s a good location, especially since the city of Joliet played up its place along the historic Route 66 highway.
“We’ve had people from Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, England and Italy — all over the world. People come to do the Route 66 drive,” Gulas said Friday during an interview at his stand, at 920 N. Broadway.
The soft-serve ice cream stand has Route 66 signs around it and replicas of the Blues Brothers on top of it, coaxing travelers to visit an area that also includes information boards describing Joliet attractions and history.
The neighborhood business is good, too, Gulas said. And the city helped when it built a kiddie park nearby.
Joliet acquired the building that houses Rich & Creamy, previously named Kreamy Delight, and nearby homes as part of the Broadway Greenway project. The city wanted to beautify a major entryway into Joliet. Aging houses, some in disrepair, were acquired and torn down. Joliet has gradually developed an arboretum on the land surrounding the ice cream stand, and the area does offer a picturesque stroll for visitors who also can enjoy an ice cream sundae or other treat while there.
But the ice cream stand needs a new roof now. Gulas and his partner are paying off back rent to Joliet. And city officials have begun to question whether they should put money into the building.
Rich & Creamy was a topic of discussion at the city council meeting last week, when City Manager Thomas Thanas gave a report on the rent situation.
Gulas and partner Richard Lodewegen owed $18,000 when the city took them to court in May. But the owners made a $6,000 payment and started making double payments on the monthly rent. Both sides said they believe the back rent will be paid by the end of the year.
“I think going forward we need to look at what the future is for this site,” Thanas told the council.
Thanas said he is concerned about the building being so close to the road and is wary of putting city money into a new roof.
“At the end of the summer, we’ll evaluate the building and see if we can get through another summer or two,” Thanas later told The Herald-News. “We’re at a stage now where we’re going to have to figure out a long-term solution.”
That comes as a surprise to Gulas, who thought the future of the business had been stabilized with the rent agreement with the city.
Gulas said part of the issue with the rent was that the owners believed they would have to pay for the roof — a job that had been estimated at $19,000. Other building repairs were done by the business owners, who then skipped rent payments to cover the cost of the work, he said.
He acknowledged that income suffered when the recession hit. What was worse, Gulas said, was the maintenance work that closed the nearby Ruby Street bridge and detoured through traffic for months. But now that the rent issue is being resolved, Gulas expected the city would go ahead and put on a new roof.
As for the long-term future of the ice cream stand: “We have a 30-year lease that we signed,” he said.
That would seem to protect the business until 2031, although Thanas said he has not yet examined the lease for potential escape clauses.
Gulas acknowledged that the ice cream stand is close to Broadway Street, which is also Route 53 and a heavily traveled route and thus presents a possible safety issue, especially when a line forms. But, he said, that has never been a problem, and, “It’s always been close to the road.”
Indeed, he said, a plan once in place to demolish the stand and replace it with a newer building in the rear of the property was dismissed because the proximity to the road was deemed to give the ice cream stand a nostalgic charm — a throwback to the Route 66 days.
Lori Valek of Joliet has been coming to Rich & Creamy for years. The place has good turtle sundaes, she said, and the development of the park area around the ice cream stand is “really nice.”
“Keep it,” she said, when told the city was uncertain of what to do with the building. “I would miss it if it weren’t here.”