“I’m very excited to be back!’ exclaims Kayla Stone, her lime green T-shirt illuminating the walls of Islands Tropical Ice Cream. “We almost didn’t make it. But I knew it was going to come back, especially after the miracle happened.”
In the throes of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, like countless small businesses worldwide, Islands Tropical Ice Cream in Silver Spring was forced to close its doors. The future looked grim for the local institution after its application for a Paycheck Protection Program loan was rejected.
That’s when Stone, 24, who has worked at the shop since last fall, organized a Go Fund Me campaign with the goal of generating at least $15,000. “I did it because my uncle was literally going to shut down the shop,” she says. “We would have [had] to make about $20,000 to pay the back rent and replenish the inventory.”
Then, the miracle: an outpouring of support for Stone’s Go Fund Me page from loyal fans of the family-run business. The $33,000 that has come in so far, says Stone, was enough for the shop to reopen its doors and “help give us a little cushion to get extra inventory.”
Stone, who is studying marketing at Bowie State University, will actually be taking over ownership of the shop this fall from her uncle, Pierre Stone, who was unavailable for comment. She says her family is comfortable with her taking the reins. “I’ve always shown leadership. I’ve always been the organizer. So it hasn’t been too hard to make the transition.”
On June 19—Juneteenth—the Black-owned shop on Georgia Avenue, tucked away in a drab strip shopping center just before the cutoff that leads to the District border at 16th Street NW, was back in business. The first day back after 90 days brought smiles all around that mingled with a palpable sense of relief.
Helen Corporan took a few minutes away from her job at a nearby law firm to drop by. “The only reason we’re here,” she remarks, “is we heard it needed help. We read the article on Facebook and we were determined to come here.”
Corporan says her first impressions were positive. “It’s just…more personal,” she says, her senses processing the carnival of colors and upbeat chatter. “I know where my money is going. It’s not just making the rich richer.”
Pointing to the poster on the wall touting guava ice cream, customer Dawn Leaf explains that she enjoys frequenting the business “because I like the ice cream and the very unusual flavors. It’s better than the chains.” As for the way in which the shop bounced back from near bankruptcy, Leaf adds, “They’re trying. Like a lot of small businesses.”
The shop is unique in another way. Along with its long menu of ice cream flavors—
everything from mango and orange pineapple to lychee and rum raisin—Islands Tropical offers a variety of lunch specials that reflect Pierre Stone’s Jamaican roots, including jerk wings, curry shrimp and Jamaican patties.
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As the lunch hour drew near, Esten Abell patiently awaited his order of chicken wings and beef patties, which he likes to pair with ginger beer ice cream.
“They’re good,” he reports, “and I don’t know where else I can get sweet curry wings and jerk chicken wings.” Abell says the outpouring of support that was sparked by the Go Fund Me campaign underscores how smaller enterprises comprise the backbone of the U.S. economy. “It shows that they care about local businesses. I hope they survive,” he says.
While Stone grabs a breather between waves of customers, she says she doesn’t feel disoriented coming back to work after such a long absence.
As the worker next to her took yet another order for fresh pineapple ice cream, Stone says, “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid. The support we’ve received makes me feel like the community has our back.”
A version of this story appeared in the August-September 2020 issue of Montgomery Magazine.