For the past three summers, Bill Hartley has been scooping ice cream and dishing out good humor at his Harrison ice cream parlor, Sweet Dreams.
On any hot afternoon, if you drive past the little storefront next to the post office on Harrison’s main street, you’ll see a row of white chairs occupied by Hartley’s customers.
“It’s ‘companionable,”’ said Pat Walker, who drove down from Carlin Bay one afternoon to enjoy a “small” chocolate fudge brownie cone and just sit and visit.
Another regular, Deanie Curry, stops by frequently with her husband and mother. “I can’t think of any place better to be,” Curry said.
She, like Pat, admits to having ice cream at home in the freezer.
It’s not just the product that keeps locals and tourists lining up in front of the counter and filling the chairs out front.
The main attraction is Hartley himself, a man who likes people and enjoys what he’s doing.
He’s made any stop at Sweet Dreams an opportunity for a lot of good-natured camaraderie.
“I never enjoyed any one thing as much,” Hartley said. “If I’d known about it, I would have done this thirty years ago.’
Before finding Sweet Dreams, Hartley worked alternately as a truck driver and mechanic, at one time owning a service station in Issaquah, Wash., where he and his wife, Jan, lived before moving to St. Maries in 1992.
“Over the years my wife had had a lot of experience cooking, both in restaurants and in the military,” Hartley said. “She always wanted her own restaurant, … so when the opportunity came along, we bought the Apple Tree in St. Maries. Me? I never wanted my own ice cream store, but here I am.”
It happened in unlikely fashion. Sweet Dreams’ original owner, Connie Copeland, wanted to sell some equipment and move to the coast.
The Hartleys looked at some of it and ended up buying the whole shop.
That was 1993. Bill Hartley has been there every summer since, greeting people by name.
“What’ll it be, George?” he said to a man walking through the door. “… Sugar cone or regular?”
Before customers have ordered, Hartley has a pretty good idea what they’ll will go for.
“Older people go for traditional flavors like maple nut. The twenties crowd likes chocolate chip cookie dough and kids will order bubble gum flavor.”
Outside, he points to a blue pickup parked along the curb. The frame around the license plate reads “SWEET DREAMS” and below that the words of most customers: “THAT’S A SMALL ONE?”
“My kids gave me that,” he said.
Inside the shop, customers can’t help but notice the murals on the north wall. They’re a legacy from the previous owner who sold artistic masks made by a friend.
When Hartley took over the shop, the strange, imaginary figures painted on the walls had no heads. The masks had been the heads.
Hartley tried balloons at the top of their necks the first year but didn’t like it. Finally, two friends, the late George Hays and Lisa Lynch, stepped forward, volunteering to paint heads on the critters, with bizarre results that words can’t describe.
Better to stop in and see for yourself. Take time for a favorite cone and settle down in the shade of the awning.
How better to spend a summer day?
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