Amhersts current first family of ice cream passes torch, sells store to new owner
Jean Girouard passes an ice cream cone to a young customer at her Croft Street store. Girouard and her husband Dave recently sold the store after 30 years of ownership. Brad Works - Amherst Daily News
AMHERST - In 1979, Dave and Jean Girouard were living near Halifax, busy with two young boys and building successful carrers in the banking world.
Today they are preparing for retirement.
Somewhere between then and now, however, they become better known as the 'ice cream man' and 'ice cream lady.'
As anyone who has grown up in Amherst knows, the ice cream label is well deserved. For the past 28 years any student who managed a passing grade in June also received a free cone from the Girouard's store at the corner of Croft and Summer streets.
"We once scooped 774 cones in two-and-half hours," recalled Dave, adding, "now we're more organized."
Back in 1979, the Girouard's decided they'd had enough of suburbia and wanted to move back home to raise their two boys - Chris, then 4, and two-year-old Kevin.
"We wanted to return to our roots and raise our boys here," said Jean, between dishing out ice cream cones to customers late Friday morning. "We looked for something that would serve us good and this did it."
So, in December of that year, the couple left the bank where they were working, bought the vacant building at 72 Croft St., moved home and began building on their dream.
For the next three decades - in the face of economic swings, the growth of large shopping malls and big box stores - the Girouards persevered.
"We still have our first customer that came in that day," Dave said. "I remember, I messed up and rang it in wrong."
It turns out his memory is sound.
"I think it was a bottle of pop," said Lynn Jones, who was indeed their first patron - albeit by accident. "I thought they were open but they weren't, but they waited on me anyway.
"I gave him a $20 and he gave me change for a $5, or something like that."
Jones, though, has no hard feelings.
"I told him I'd be watching closer next time. I think he was just excited."
She's been watching for 30 years, and says she'll miss the neighbourhood storekeepers - they sold the store last month.
"They've always been very pleasant. Hopefully the new owners will be the same."...
Not much has changed at D&J Convenience in the past three decades.
They don't make their own waffle cones any more, but they still sell penny candy - one of the few stores that does - and ice cream, which they started selling two years after opening, remains but has grown from eight flavours to 41.
And, except for time spent at their summer home along the Port Elgin shore where they plan to retire, the Girouards lived above their store, raising their children in the neighbourhood they served.
"We know about 95 per cent of our customers by name," said Dave. "We've seen the changes in the generations. Leaving gives us mixed emotions."
But for all the memories and friends made, it will likely be the "grading day" ice cream for which the Girouards are most remembered.
"The kids back then are bringing their kids in," said Dave. "We don't do anything. They just know."
Those customers will get a chance to say thanks on Wednesday, when the store hosts a special customer appreciation day, allowing the Girouards to say goodbye.
It seems fitting they managed to squeeze in one last round of ice cream freebies before calling it quits.
For anyone wondering, the store's new owner, Tony Hubert, plans to keep the tradition alive.
"He's even invited us back to help scoop," laughed Jean, leaving the impression she might take Hubert up on the offer.