On an otherwise ordinary day, Terry Helbling found an unpleasant voicemail waiting for him at work.
Helbling and his husband, David, are the owners and operators of Skoops’ — a long-running and much beloved ice cream stand in blue collar Barberton, Ohio, 8 miles southwest of Akron.
The homophobic voicemail came just one week after Skoops’ launched a signature LGBTQ+ Pride sundae.
“[The person] said, ‘I wish I would have never given you any money,” Helbling says. “‘My family and I come there often and we will never be back.’”
The message shocked Helbling, who says Skoops’ has mostly seen unwavering community support from thousands of loyal customers. But after three successful ice cream seasons, Helbing says Skoops’ doesn’t need business from homophobic customers anyway.
“We’re finally at a place where we don’t have to answer to anybody,” he says. “We can tell people to just go away. So I said, ‘We don’t want your money.’”
Helbling and his husband extended the Pride sundae’s seasonal stint — reminding customers that no matter which community they’re part of, Skoops’ is ready to welcome them.
‘It’s always been my dream’
When Helbling and his husband bought the storefront for Skoops’ in 2019 — following the space’s decade-long vacancy and brief stint as a hot dog stand — they were nervous about running a small business as an out LGBTQ+ couple.
But more than that, they were excited.
“It’s always been my dream to be the owner of an ice cream shop,” Helbling says. “When we found this place it needed a little TLC, but it gave us an opportunity to use a blank canvas.”
The two worked long hours at full-time jobs, then renovated Skoops’ in the evenings and over weekends.
“We would work at this place at night,” Helbling says. “We spent about nine months remodeling, and putting things together, doing whatever we could. It was a crazy time.”
Three years later, Helbling describes long lines and loyal customers that have enriched his life in more ways than one.
When he and David eloped during the COVID-19 pandemic, Skoops’ Facebook page was flooded with messages of kindness and support from customers across the city.
That support goes both ways, says Helbling, who started a free lunch program after a young person knocked on Skoops’ window looking for food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a completely misjudged and misunderstood area,” Helbling says. “Something we definitely learned about Barberton is that it doesn’t matter if you pull up in a $100,000 car or you pull up in a $200 beater. People don’t care. They don’t care who you are as long as you’re here to make the place better and just be yourself.”
Skoops’ serves up LGBTQ+ Pride
For LGBTQ+ Pride month, Helbling wanted to design a special treat in celebration.
At the beginning of June, Skoops’ launched its signature Pride sundae, featuring fresh strawberries, homemade vanilla custard, buttercream and finished with frosted and sprinkled white cake from Barberton’s Leach’s Meats and Sweets.
“I was so nervous about actually launching it,” Helbling says.
The launch was wildly successful — with Helbling even running out of tiny rainbow flags to top the sundae.
Then came the voicemail.
That afternoon, Helbling extended the sundae’s limited run, and posted this statement on Facebook:
“This morning we received a pretty nasty voicemail from a now former guest (thank god) telling us they will never be back because of this sundae. Well thank you for making more room in line for our judge free fans that love Skoops’ for Skoops’.”
‘You’re welcome here’
By June 19, Skoops’ had officially sold 1,000 Pride sundaes.
On Facebook, dozens of customers posted selfies with the sundae — topped with rainbow sprinkles and a tiny LGBTQ+ Pride flag.
“I have 30 staff that come from all different backgrounds and all different religions and families and they’re all just so supportive of each other and they’re amazing,” Helbling says, rattling off a long list of things that make the community Skoops’ has created extra special.
More than anything, Helbling hopes customers know they aren’t just welcomed, but celebrated.
“Whatever community you’re part of, you’re welcome here,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who you are. We don’t judge.”
“It’s right in our mission statement,” Helbling adds. “We want everybody to feel included.” 🔥