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March 20, 2018

Bad weather puts a damper on free water-ice day at Rita's

The first day of spring promotion took a hit because of the bad forecast

Weather Water Ice
Rita's Water Ice Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Turnout was light at the Rita's Italian Ice on Ridge Avenue in Andorra despite the first-day-of-spring free giveaway on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

It’s the first day of spring and, as you’re all aware, that means Rita’s Italian Ice is giving away free water ices (proper nomenclature) to all customers who approach its windows.

If you’re reading this in the Philadelphia area, you also know that the first day of spring yielding to the front end of yet another winter storm. By mid-afternoon, large snow flakes turned to sleet and even freezing rain.

Sure, Rita’s was founded locally. 'Twas May 1984 when former Philadelphia firefighter Bob Tumolo got the Trevose-based company started. Today, there are more than 600 locations in 30 states and Washington, D.C.

At many of those locations, the giveaway is drawing the expected crowds, we presume. But locally, the bad weather has put a damper on turnout. 

That’s the word according to John Thain, who spoke about the impact through the window at the location he owns on Ridge Avenue, not too far from Bells Mill Road, in Philadelphia’s Andorra section.

It’s one of seven stores owned by Thain and business partner Jason Klotkowski. The others are in Roxborough and Germantown in Philly and Flourtown, Wyncote and Wyndmoor in the surrounding suburbs.

He said they knew it'd be slower than usual when they first saw the reports of looming bad weather. 

“If it was sunny, or even weather like yesterday when it was 40 but felt like it was 60, you’d see a line winding around the building right now,” said Thain, who's lived in Germantown, East Falls and, now, Lafayette Hill, Montgomery County. “But as it is, this is what we have.”

By that, he meant that one customer – in Red Sox gear – came to the window while we were talking around 2:45 p.m. and another strolled up about 10 minutes later.

Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

John Thain, co-owner of seven Rita's Italian Ice locations in Philadelphia and the suburbs, said that he expected bad weather cut the number of free water ices they'd give away on the first day of Spring in half.

On one hand, you'd think he'd be happy to not have to serve up as much free product on Tuesday. But that's not the nature of a tradition that draws attention and rewards customers over the company's bottom line.

Nationally speaking, all Rita's locations generally stay open from noon to 9 p.m., giving away an estimated one million Italian ices in previous years, said Lauren Bland, spokeswoman for the company.

"Because of the nor'easter, there's no way of anticipating how many people will be able to get to the locations yet," she said.

For his part, Thain had some estimates.

“We’ll probably give away 500 here today, but this is one of our smaller stores,” he said. “We projected that, at the seven stores, we’d give out 20,000. Unfortunately, we’ll be lucky if we do 10,000. It’s really a shame.”