September will mark 40 years in business for Herrell’s Ice Cream and Sweet Bakery in Northampton.
But what should have been a celebratory summer leading up to that milestone has instead become what owner Judy Herrell called the “hardest season I think we have ever gone through” — and she’s not just talking about the loss of business due to COVID-19.
A series of unpleasant visits from customers finally pushed Herrell to the brink during the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend, prompting her to hop on Facebook and fire off a very pointed message to anyone who wants to come into the store for an icy treat: “THIS IS ONLY ICE CREAM SO, NO PUN INTENDED, CHILL!”
Herrell’s is the latest in a string of New England ice cream shops to have trouble with sour people after reopening, as customers on the Cape and in Rhode Island have also reportedly berated and cursed at workers just returning from pandemic lockdowns. At least a few of the incidents have started when customers refused to don masks.
The Herrell’s Facebook post detailed the short tempers of some customers (a person was mad because she had to wait 15 minutes for an order) and the awful behavior of others (a customer threw ice cream at an employee). It was shared hundreds of times as of Monday afternoon, with many people showing their support for the well-known establishment in the post’s replies.
“Your staff is always amazing, I’m sorry you all have to deal with these entitled selfish people,” one person wrote. “Keep doing what you’re doing, you don’t need those . . . customers.”
In a phone interview, Herrell said a mixture of incidents — a bad batch, if you will — led her to vent online this weekend. Specifically, it’s been the poor treatment of her small staff, who she said is doing their best under stressful circumstances.
“Customer-wise, and their behavior towards employees, this has been the most offensive year I think we’ve ever had,” Herrell said. “People have been verbally admonishing staff members for things that they have no control of. They’re just doing their job.”
Herrell said while a majority of the customers have been pleasant and even tip well, there’s still a subset of visitors who have been impatient or rude and needed to be called out.
“Most everybody else is really nice,” she said. “But we are getting one or two [disgruntled people] a day, where we used to not get any for months. For years!”
A couple of times, Herrell said she’s had to take on the mantra of the “Seinfeld” character who used to refuse people soup, telling customers “No Ice Cream for you.”
The “straw that broke the camel’s back,” and gave rise to her Facebook message, came when a man and a woman refused to properly wear masks in the store on Saturday, July 4, an issue that’s come up more than once since they began letting people inside to place orders.
“We again have had a nasty visit from a ‘refuse to wear a mask’ person,” Herrell wrote in her post. “His partner wore a 1/2 mask below her nose. She was asked not to eat in the store. He wasn’t served and asked to put on a mask or leave.”
That apparently resulted in the man calling one of Herrell’s ice cream scoopers an expletive, she said.
Herrell said she has very firm rules about mask-wearing, mirroring a simpler time but with a slight twist: “No shoes, no shirt, no mask or shield, no service.”
“When you come into my store, you have to follow my rules,” Herrell told The Boston Globe. “It’s that simple.”
She added, “this is entitlement to get everybody else sick. And it’s just nuts. It’s really crazy. Especially because we are talking about ice cream.”
The Western Massachusetts ice cream shop isn’t the first to experience unpleasantries from customers since reopening.
In May, the owner of the Polar Cave Ice Cream Parlour in Mashpee said opening day turned into a nightmare after the store became overwhelmed with orders and people started cursing at and berating his young staff, leading to one person wanting to quit.
And in Rhode Island, according to WPRI, at least three ice cream shops have reported customers being disrespectful to staff because of changes brought on by the coronavirus, such as wearing masks.
Herrell said she agrees that reopening of businesses with limitations and new guidelines in place may be contributing to the bad behavior. That, and the state of the nation right now.
“I understand that everybody is on edge,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear, people don’t know how to deal with the quarantining, they don’t know how to deal with the worry that they don’t have jobs, they’re worrying about their businesses going under, they’re worrying about what’s going to happen with their families.”
But still — all she’s asking is that people keep their cool.
“Don’t abuse my staff,” she said. “You have something nasty to say about my business, you call me.”