Eye on GSO

Baskin’ in the Past

By Billy Eye

 

Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal.

Voltaire

You may know by now that the Baskin-Robbins on Battleground has closed for good. It happened right before Christmas, just shy of the ice creamery’s 50th anniversary at that location. That simple cinderblock hut, formerly a Lane’s Laundry, was the site of my first job in 1973. I still have the old B-R pay stubs — $1.40 an hour back when a single-scoop cone cost around 30 cents.

You wouldn’t know it today, but that Baskin-Robbins was a really jumping spot in the 1970s and 80s. There was always a trickle of folks stopping by after leaving nearby Cellar Anton’s, and when movies at the Janus Theaters across the street let out, waves of teens and college kids would flood through the door, spilling out into the parking lot. With six screens at the Janus, there was pretty much a continual churn of warm bodies cast into the night, inexorably drawn to the allure of Mint Chocolate Chip — a new flavor in 1973 that quickly became a Baskin-Robbins best-seller.

There were always three or four of us behind the counter scooping furiously. Customers took a number from a pink dispenser to be waited on. I shot the above photo on a hot August night in the mid-1970s. 

Packing pints from a granite hard tub of Quarterback Crunch just out of the freezer was grueling, especially for this skinny kid. And the unshakable scent of spoiled cream wasn’t exactly the sweet smell of success you might imagine. But making ice-cream cakes was enjoyable, and my friends thought it was a cool job to have.

In the early 1980s, when Skate Station One Roller Rink and the Sandwich Construction Company were also major attractions in the vicinity, it’s my understanding that B-R remained a social hotspot. By the time Janus closed in 2000, young people had found other places to hang out, and business dropped off considerably.

Last time I wandered into Baskin-Robbins was almost a year ago. It was rather sweetly nostalgic. Not much had changed since the I worked there. My fav item, their Jamoca milkshake, still tasted exactly the same. But now, for the first time in half a century, there is no Baskin-Robbins to be found in Greensboro (the Four Seasons outlet closed some time ago).

The original Battleground franchisee, Lois McManus (my boss), also owned three other nearby businesses: a converted church that served as The Chase restaurant, an upscale ladies’ boutique called House of the Dove and The Perfect Poppy dress shop.

How she found time and energy for all of those ventures along with the enormous amount of community service she performed remains a mystery to me. She was president of the YWCA Board, PTA President, chairperson of Mobile Meals, president of the Eastern Music Festival, founding member of the Interactive Resource Center — and this barely scratches the surface of her accomplishments. Lois McManus passed away in 2016. Toward the end of her life, she was one of my mother’s neighbors at The Hampshire.

But it was providing a wholesome place for young people to hang at night during my not-at-all misspent youth that I’ll remember most about her. That and getting fired for giving Sammy Prefontaine a free ice cream cone.

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