There's a new flavor in town for ice cream lovers. Ben & Jerry's has arrived in the Barracks Road shopping center, replacing Baskin Robbins.
Business is booming for the new shop as students and Charlottesville residents flock to savor Ben & Jerry's unusual treats such as Dilbert-Totally Nuts and Cherry Garcia.
The store opened this summer after the owner of Baskin Robbins, Al McCauley, retired. McCauley said that his store was not losing business, but that he just felt that it was a good time to close up shop.
"It's just hard to get good help anymore," McCauley said. "The lease was up, and if I didn't decide to retire now, it would have been five years down the road before I got another chance." McCauley also cited a changing corporate culture at Baskin Robbins as one of the factors in his decision to retire.
"It was a good mom and pop situation -- a big family with ice cream. Then [Baskin Robbins] acquired Dunkin Donuts and a [sandwich company]. Things just weren't the same anymore," he said.
Yet McCauley said he misses some aspects of the business.
"I miss seeing the customers come in. Charlottesville is a great town. I've lived here my entire life, and been a Baskin Robbins franchisee for the past 22 years," he said.
The vacancy, however, opened the door for Ben & Jerry's. Sue Haas, the owner and manager of the new Barracks Road Ben & Jerry's, said she wants to maintain the same type of community-friendly service that McCauley misses.
"I align myself with Ben & Jerry's because it's a value-based company. We believe in giving back to the community what we get from the community," Haas said.
Ben & Jerry's already has sponsored a blood drive on its opening weekend in July.
"More projects are in the works," Haas said. "The students seem very enthusiastic. I've been contacted by several student organizations thus far about doing service projects," she added.
Haas said she believes the Barracks Road location is full of possibilities.
"It was really great luck that we got the spot. When McCauley decided not to renew his lease, we petitioned for the spot and were the first in line," she said.
She added that another ice cream place filling Baskin Robbins' spot was "sheer coincidence."
Officials from Ben & Jerry's corporate headquarters, located in South Burlington, Vt. also said the Charlottesville is an attractive location.
"There were a lot of reasons why this is a good location," Ben & Jerry's spokesman Pat Burns said.
"When opening a new franchise, we look at the demographics. This area had the University, the existing franchisee in Sue Haas, and the sales per square foot of the Barracks Road Shopping Center. Charlottesville has been on the list [for expansion] for a while, so this was our opportunity," Burns added.
Burns also said he thinks Ben & Jerry's combination of product and social responsibility helps make it attractive to customers.
"Our three-pronged mission statement of product, economic, and social, as well as our devotion to making the finest ice cream around, make this a great place to work. We donate 7.5 percent of all pre-tax dollars," he said.
These donations are distributed to three places, the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, employee Community Action Teams at five Vt. sites, and through corporate grants made by the Director of Social Mission. These groups support projects that are models for social change.
Some University students said they support Ben & Jerry's social outreach efforts.
"Ben & Jerry is a politically conscious organization, and I think it's important that companies try to interact with the community. It's also important that they recycle. I'm happy they've come to Charlottesville," third-year College student Sarah Amesberry said.
Other students said they are fond of Ben & Jerry's simply for the ice cream.
"Ben & Jerry's is more exotic -- they have more exotic flavors," said third- year Engineering student Faheed Rahman. Reviews of the new scoop shop weren't all favorable, however, and some students said they still long for their favorite 32 flavors.
"Ben and Jerry's is a wee bit pretentious. I feel like I'm about eight when I go in there because of the cows and decorations," fourth-year College student Kendal Howell said. "It was really a slap in the face that Baskin Robbins closed."
"Ben & Jerry's has all these ridiculous chocolate cows and whatnot. Baskin Robbins just had plain chocolate chips," fourth-year College student Ronnie Booker said.
Some students also said they could no longer find Baskin Robbins ice cream anywhere.
"You can't find Baskin Robbin's ice cream in half-pints," said third-year College student Patrick Geary. "If I wanted Ben & Jerry's I could have just gone to the Pav."
Although some students have reservations about the new store, Haas said she sees a bright future for the Barrack's Ben and Jerry's.
"The possibilities seem limitless. Basically, the world is our oyster," she said.