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Deb Weld is saying goodbye.
Without an ounce of bitterness, but with tears, she's closing Sweet Creams Soda Shop at the end of business Nov. 21.
Weld, then known as Deb Rowe, opened Sweet Creams on Valentine's Day 2010.
She had bought the building her grandfather had built in 2008. She gathered a soda fountain, an excellent ice cream called Valpo Velvet and opened the doors. In many ways, she also opened her heart.
She was generous and caring. She was kind to anyone who walked in the door. And she made the business work for a while.
But lately, she's been losing $200 a day for a year. And she said it's time for someone else to have the restaurant while she continues teaching art classes in another part of the building at 700 S. Main St., Elkhart.
“We were really doing well,” she said of those early months in 2010. She sold ice cream and music acts attracted people to her business across from the Elkhart Post Office near the railroad tracks.
Late that year, the business slowed down in the winter. Then Streetscape came, which shut down Main Street altogether.
“That took every ounce of every cent and energy to stay open,” she said. It was just too difficult to get to her business and city officials didn't help businesses like hers very much, she said.
During that time, she fed the guys working on the project, but few others.
Business returned, but not enough and another slow-down in August hurt again.
“I don't know what it is,” she said.
Angle parking affected traffic to her place because of how it was designed near the railroad tracks, she said.
She may not have created a place that young people to which enough people wanted to come. The teens she tried to attract never came in any large numbers, she said. Her primary clientele was over 40 years old. And despite being across from the post office, which is the busiest place in downtown Elkhart, she didn't get enough traffic despite trying a number of things.
“No matter what I did people didn't know I was here or forgot,” she said.
But at Sweet Creams, there was music and laughter and it felt like family, she said.
She said the business was viable at the beginning, but didn't stay that way. She and her employees always used equipment designed for the home to serve hot dogs, sandwiches and soup. The service wasn't immediate but it was fast enough and always came with a free side of sweetness.
Weld said she wishes Elkhart was like the English villages she visited on her recent honeymoon. Not enough people are walking downtown. Events like the Elkhart Jazz Festival and ArtWalk bring people downtown, but not even the Lerner has been a boon for restaurants yet, she said.
Not enough businesses survive downtown, she said. “I think as a city we are not actively enticing business to come downtown,” she said.
She said the powers that be need to work harder.
She knows that SOMA, Downtown Elkhart Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce are working, but the city and Main Street is still segmented and people don't find their way between segments easily, she said. She wishes there were a downtown business newsletter and more collaboration. She's still a believer in downtown.
She said she's not bitter. And I believe her.
She said she's sad and frustrated. And I believe her.
“I'm not sure Elvis even could have pulled this one out,” she said.
But she also has no regrets.
She cherishes the couple who had their first date there, got engaged there and had a bridal shower at Sweet Creams.
She recalls the parents who brought their child to Sweet Creams for the first taste of ice cream.
“There's nothing that can take that away,” she said.
She didn't want people wondering why she closed. She gave them a chance to say goodbye, which is classy. Not every restaurant owner does that.
If you want to say goodbye, Sweet Creams is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday this week and Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
Regina and Mario Villela plan to open Tex-I-Ana in the spot and serve Tex-Mex food, even on a buffet. “I'm just seeing if somebody else can do something better with it so it's not lost,” she said.
I hope the new place does well when it opens soon. But I'll miss Deb serving me food. And I know I'm not alone.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook. His blog is at www.blogs.etruth.com/diningalaking/.