Sweet tradition

Thirty years later, snowball stand's a local legend

August 21, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

At The Snowball Stand in Woodstock, Erin Compton has snowball-making down to a science.

On Thursday night, she dispensed a mound of crushed ice from a tall silver machine on the counter and added a splash of syrup. She piled on more ice and more syrup, topped it with a big scoop of marshmallow, stabbed a spoon into the side, and in less than a minute, it was out the window and into the hands of a waiting customer.

It is a ritual that has been performed thousands of times in the three decades the stand has operated at the corner of Route 99 and Woodstock Road. But for snowball fans, the deceptively simple treat never gets old.

Before she worked there, "I was at the snowball stand every day," said Compton, 18, who munches spoonfuls of crushed ice topped with bright green sour-apple-flavored syrup between customers. "My friends and I asked our parents to drive us up here."

As The Snowball Stand celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, owner Linda Luber, who bought the stand and the house that shares the property last year, has made a few changes.

She has added benches and decorative lights to the grassy area beside the stand. She has expanded the parking. And she orders more unusual flavorings from a company in New Orleans to offer as the "flavor of the day," including apple pie and butter pecan.

But the most important things are timeless, Luber said. The stand still sits close to the road facing the intersection a few yards from Luber's front porch. The preserved farmland across the street adds to the peaceful, rural setting. Neighbors still see each other there. And, of course, snowballs remain a classic Maryland summer treat.

"It appeals to all ages," Luber said, with options ranging from traditional fruit flavors to combinations involving a scoop of ice cream, chocolate syrup, candy toppings or marshmallow.

30 years of snowballs

Luber said the square one-story building was opened by the Noll family in 1938 as a gas station and a general store.

For a few years in the 1970s, it was a crab business and then a craft store until Shirley Merkle (a Noll family member) and her husband, Arthur, started selling snowballs in 1975.

The Miller family owned the house and ran the stand for 13 years, starting in 1991. In 2004, Luber bought the property.

"It was a good fit," Luber said.

She is a graduate of nearby Mount Hebron High School and a long-time resident of the area who knew the Millers. She said she was looking for a new home and a job that would allow her to spend time with her son, now 7 years old.

Luber spent 16 years as a senior marketing manager for MCI and found that her management and marketing skills came in handy.

But she said, "It is a lot more work than you would probably think. It is an art form making a snowball. You need the right amount of syrup, the right amount of ice."

She said she relies on 22 dedicated employees - mostly high school and college students - some of whom have been at the stand longer than she has.

A `great' job

The workers carry in bags of ice (delivered twice weekly) from the outdoor cases, mix flavoring with water and sugar to make the syrup, help customers, clean up and sometimes get to test new flavor combinations.

"They have a great working atmosphere," said Greg Murach, 21, who just finished his sixth summer at the stand. "It pays well, [customers] tip well, and I get to see people that I know every night."

Murach, who will be a first-year math teacher at Mount Hebron High School this fall, said leaving the stand "is bittersweet. ... It is so much fun to make people happy by giving them a snowball."

"I enjoy working with the little kids that come up and get so excited," said Lindsey Waters, 19, of Sykesville. She will finish her fifth summer at the stand and return to studying nursing at Howard Community College in a few weeks.

Her two older sisters worked at the stand and taught her the ropes. Her younger brother works there now.

A secret to the job, Waters said, is to "listen to how the customer wants it to be made and just remember you can't make it the way you like it."

A local tradition

There is no shortage of customers, including neighborhood regulars (a few come every day), families, sports teams, camp groups and, in June, a bride and groom with all of their guests.

"It is a ritual at this point," said Dan Gillcrist, who drives down from Westminster with his wife and four children at least once a week. His wife's grandmother lives down the road from the stand.

As daughters Ellie, 8, and Georgia, 6, (fans of spearmint with marshmallow) and son Danny, 4 (who likes the "Scooby Doo" with chocolate, peanut butter and ice cream) ran around on the grassy lawn beside the stand Thursday, Gillcrist watched with his daughter, Isabelle, 2.

"They just love coming here," he said.

Mary Mullin of Ellicott City praised the way the stand's snowballs don't compress into a hard lump.

"Nobody makes a snowball the way they do," said Mullin, who brought two friends to the stand Tuesday after a day of shopping.

She said most people in the area know the stand when she tells them where she lives.

"It's a landmark," she said.

The Snowball Stand

Location: At Route 99 and Woodstock Road, Woodstock

Season: Mid-April to mid-September

Summer hours: 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily (closes at 9 p.m. when school is in session.)

Number of flavors: 70

Most popular flavors: Cherry, chocolate, egg custard

Ice: Crushed, not shaved

Cost: 86 cents up to $2.62, plus extra for toppings

Busiest month: April

Slowest month: August

Busiest days: Mother's Day and Father's Day

E-mail: thesnowballstand@comcast.net

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