After 27 years of serving ice cream to the Harvard Square masses, Herrell’s Ice Cream’s Dunster St. location may close as early as November.
Financial pressure from rising costs and a new competitor in town with prime real estate on Mass. Ave. snowballed into “the perfect storm” for the much-loved ice cream shop, said Herrell’s owner Jeffrey Stanett, making its continued operation impractical, if not impossible.
Instead, Stanett said he plans to open a casual restaurant by next spring in an expansion of Herrell’s current location, which he plans to call First Printer Restaurant, Bar, and Grill.
Stanett said that labor and materials expenses have grown for the store, and rent has shot upward of $10,000 per month. Consequently, the ice cream shop has not turned a profit for the past 4 or 5 months and has taken subsidies from Stanett for the last few years.
But the single largest factor in Herrell’s closing may have been the arrival of J.P. Licks, another locally-based ice cream franchise that opened to much fanfare last summer across the street from Boylston Gate.
According to Stanett, J.P. Licks now accounts for a third of the ice cream business in the Square. Stanett praised the quality of his competitor’s goods, adding that J.P. Licks founder Vince Petryk was a friend. But he also noted that J.P. Licks boasted an advantage in location compared to Herrell’s from its Mass. Ave. vantage.
J.P. Licks currently holds a lease in a building owned by Harvard Real Estate Services and was invited to be a tenant, Petryk said. As a result, Stanett said, he felt he had not been given an equal opportunity to expand his business.
“I would think that after 27 years in the Square, if they really wanted to have another great ice cream store, they would’ve contacted me,” he said. “They would’ve given me a ring because this is a mom and pop, super-clean operation.”
Harvard may have also offered J.P. Licks a preferential lease on the prime real estate. Petryk said his monthly rent was about 20 percent lower than the rent on similar buildings in the Square not owned by the University.
James Gray, associate vice president of Harvard Real Estate Services, said that leasing to J.P. Licks was consistent with “a commitment to local businesses that bring a unique and quality product” to the Square. “We’re happy to have them,” he said.
Gray declined to comment on the terms of J.P. Licks’ lease.
On top of the new competition, Herrell’s in Harvard Square has long held an nebulous franchising agreement with the Herrell’s Development Corporation, which currently owns four Herrell’s franchises. For “about 20 years,” the Square’s Herrell’s has not entered into a written contract with the Herrell family, instead relying on a “handshake agreement” with company founder Steve Herrell, Stanett said.
Today, Herrell’s Development Corporation is run by Steve Herrell’s former wife Judith Herrell, who recently tried to convince Stanett to sign a written franchising agreement that set royalties at 6 percent. She said that it was a standard contract with lower royalties than major ice cream chains, and that she hoped there were no hard feelings between Stanett and herself.
“He marches to the beat of his own drummer,” she said. “If he decided to remain a Herrell’s and pay his royalty and move forward with our company, we would love to have him.”
For now, the Square’s assortment of ice cream and frozen yogurt shops is down to five.
While Petryk said he did not expect the closing of Herrell’s to give business a big boost, he said he was exploring the possibility of collaborating with Stanett to supply First Printer with ice cream.
“His personality is as large as his physical stature,” Petryk said. “I’m sure whatever he’s going to do there is going to be bombastic.”
But one long-time customer, whom the Herrell’s staff calls “Karen the Milkshake Lady,” said that nothing could compare to Herrell’s ice cream.
“I started coming here in 1985,” she said, sipping her daily milkshake. “Ice cream doesn’t get any better.”
—Staff writer Athena Y. Jiang can be reached at email@example.com.