Warm days help snowballs sell like hot cakes Stand may be county's oldest WEST COUNTY--Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

August 26, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

It was three years ago when Harry and Kathy Miller drove away from the snowball stand at Route 99 and Woodstock Road after devouring their icy treats.

That's when Mrs. Miller noticed a "For Sale" sign on the property, which included a three-bedroom, two-story brown shingle house.

"I said to my husband, 'You know, if that snowball stand could put the kids through college, I'd be tempted to buy that house. Turn the car around and get the number of the real estate agent,' " said Mrs. Miller, who was then 41.

Her temptation became a reality after a year's worth of "making everything legal" to be in compliance with county zoning laws, and the couple now owns what they believe is Howard County's oldest snowball stand.

According to their research, the building has housed various businesses that began with a general store in the 1930s and the Millers believe a snowball stand has been there for 20 years.

Despite the new parking area and ramp for the disabled, and a few renovations to the stand, the business is basically unchanged.

Sunday evenings (especially hot ones) still draw the most customers, often forming a line 30 or 40 deep, coiling around the small building. People, however, don't seem to mind the wait as they socialize while patiently waiting their turns.

On a recent Monday evening, Chris Allen, 41, a Woodstock resident, said he visits the stand four times a week, usually with his children, ages 2 and 4.

"I come here because there's lots of flavor, good service and it's convenient," he said. On this particular evening, Mr. Allen was hurrying home with his family's treats "before they melt."

Among those who chose to eat beneath some trees on the premises were Ellicott City residents Vern Alban, 46, and his 4-year-old daughter, Lisa, who visit the stand about twice a week. "I just finished mowing the lawn and Lisa was playing when we decided to get some snowballs," Mr. Alban said.

"Some people buy four or six snowballs at a time, freeze them, then pop them in the microwave," Mrs. Miller said. Some customers have even asked that they keep the stand open in the winter.

"We want everything to remain the same," Mrs. Miller said. "We still mix all of our flavors; we use the same manufacturer of the extracts."

Since the couple moved from their Turf Valley neighborhood into the Woodstock area in May 1991, they have been working practically nonstop six months each year to keep up with the demand for snowballs.

Mrs. Miller is up to her elbows in ice, 560 pounds a day of it. In this, their third season, they have used 45,000 pounds of ice, 11,000 pounds above the total for all of last year. During the season, she estimates she works 50 to 60 hours a week.

"Our family life comes to a halt," said Mrs. Miller, who runs the stand from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekends beginning in May. Depending on the weather, the business may still be operating in October.

"You never count on anything in this business," said Mrs. Miller, who attributes sales to this summer's hot weather.

So far, Mrs. Miller said, profits have gone back into the business to pay for renovations, but future sales ought to pay college tuition bills.

The couple's oldest son, 20-year-old John, is a junior at the University of North Dakota. Ryan, 17, is a senior at Mount Hebron High School, and Kelly, 9, is a fourth-grader at Waverly Elementary School.

Mr. Miller, 45, who is chief of social work at a Washington veterans hospital, helps out in the evenings "swabbing the deck," as he calls it when he helps clean up after-hours.

On Saturday mornings, he's shopping for the next week's supplies. His weekly purchases are six cases of paper towels, 800 pounds of sugar and about 2 to 4 gallons of bleach for disinfecting.

Ryan works six- or eight-hour shifts. John pitches in, too, when he's home from college. Because of this summer's hot weather, the couple hired six employees, all teens, who dispense about 43 flavors to customers -- some who come from as far away as Washington.

"It's hard work," Mrs. Miller said. "You're on your feet most of the time. When we are so busy, friends will come and I won't even see them."

Still, Mrs. Miller said, the whole family has a lot of fun.

"When people go to a snowball stand, they come in a good mood," Mr. Miller said.

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