CONCRETE — While waiting for spring to heat up, work is underway to bring something cool to Concrete's business district on Main Street: Act One Ice Cream Parlor.
The historic Concrete Theatre has been working over the past year to establish the ice cream shop that will serve up tasty treats, act as an extension of the theater lobby and provide a community gathering space in town.
As of the first week of April, contractors are in the thick of renovating the more than 100-year-old building adjoined to the theater, while owners Valerie Stafford and Fred West are in the midst of a sometimes sticky exploration of ice cream flavors.
"There is a lot of variety in flavors these days. My goodness, who knew?" Stafford said, adding that there is also increasing demand for gluten-free and dairy-free options.
"We will try to accommodate those needs if we can," she said.
The shop has bought what is called an ice cream dipping cabinet that can hold 12 flavors. Stafford said an additional cabinet may be bought to expand the assortment of flavors to 16 before the shop opens opening.
Some flavors in which the community has expressed interest have surprised Stafford.
"It's all over the map. Some people like bubblegum and really sugary flavors like birthday cake or cotton candy," she said. "A lot of people like licorice."
Fairly traditional flavors are more to Stafford's likings.
"I gravitate towards fruity-type ice creams, but I also like a good rocky road," she said.
During a tasting event held Saturday, participants were asked for feedback on flavors being considered for the shop.
"It's really important to me that the community feels involved in this ... We really want to know what people want," Stafford said.
She's found there's a lot more that goes into how a particular ice cream appeals to customers — from the way it's made and scooped to the appearance, texture and richness — than she and West expected.
"I had no idea ... It's a lot of chemistry: the butterfat content and the air content," Stafford said.
So far, the search for Act One Ice Cream Parlor flavors has been narrowed down to a few high-quality brands that can be delivered in three-gallon tubs at a reasonable price.
Vanilla is sure to be among the flavors offered, and Stafford plans to rotate flavors with the seasons — such as pumpkin in the fall.
The goal is to have the shop open by the end of May. Before then, work remains to be done from the ceiling to the floors.
"We're taking this 1915 building ... and we've had to totally renovate it," Stafford said.
A Port of Skagit grant and support from the community is helping with the renovation, which includes installing an HVAC (Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) system.
"That building has never had heat before. They only used like a pellet stove in the back," Stafford said. "We need to get heat in there, dry it up and make it smell better."
The Port of Skagit announced in late March a $10,000 Targeted Community Partnership Program grant for the project.
“The Concrete Theatre is an anchor in the Concrete community, and it provides resources and a central hub for connecting residents in eastern Skagit County,” port Commissioner Bill Shuler said in a news release.
The grant, awarded to the Concrete Chamber of Commerce for investment into the ice cream shop, was contingent on a $7,000 match in community support.
Those matching funds were raised and the HVAC system will be installed before the end of the month.
"We've had so many people donate toward this project, I can't believe how much support we've had," Stafford said.