Chestertown Rita’s Closes

By Brooke Schultz
News Editor
Despite the gray and rainy weather, members of the community still lined up at the Rita’s Italian Ice’s windows as the final few days of the franchise came to an end.
The Chestertown Rita’s location will be closed permanently after Oct. 2, a decision that the owner’s described as difficult in a Facebook comment.
“We decided it was in the best interest of our family to retire  rather than sign up for another 10 year commitment,” the comment, posted on Sept. 16, said.
For seven of the 10 years that the location has been in Chestertown, Manager Gayle Gill has been a part of the Rita’s team.
“I retired early, so I had to find something else to do and I love Rita’s,” she said. She was hooked from the free-ice day that the company offers every first day of spring. “So I started coming here, and as a joke I said to the owners one day, ‘I ought to come work for you,’ and they said, ‘Why don’t you?’ So I’ve been here for seven years.”
After being in its location just outside of Washington College’s campus for a decade, Gill said the owners decided it was best to close the business as their family transitions.
“The owners are very committed to the community, and they’ve been very committed to the kind of business this is, but it was just too much,” she said.
To continue at this location, Gill said that the owners would either have to buy the land, which is “not a cheap prospect.” Or, if they chose to find another place to rent, they would have to do a “lease improvement,” which is where they would have to take a “shell” and build a Rita’s franchise within it.
“The franchise, the equipment, and the building – not the land – has really been on the market for about three years,” Gill said. “And we had quite a few people who were looking at it but, for whatever reason — the economy is probably one of the biggest reasons — no one really picked it up.”
Gill said that the business is not floundering because of a severe lack of money and the town has supported them, but the financial difficulty comes with a mix of things.
“As a business, there’s a lot of things financially that you have to consider. The royalty fees – a case of cherry mix costs us $98. By the time corporate adds on the royalties, it’s $285. We’re paying to use their research and development and their products, but they’re also getting huge royalties,” Gill said.
Additionally, the minimum wage increasing to an hourly rate of $8.75 was a blow to the business. “It’s hard to keep the prices where our customers are comfortable so we don’t price ourselves out of business, but $8.75 is a lot.”
Gill looks back on her time at the location fondly; in the previous year she was even named Rita’s Employee of the Year by Rita’s Corporate. She is a retired educator from the Kent County area, but she said that despite leaving her teaching position, she never gave up on education. “I treated this business as if it were a classroom,” she said. “I took 14 or 15 year-old children and turned them into very valuable employees. So I still taught; I was still teaching.”
Most of the Chestertown Rita’s employees were teenagers or young adults from the Kent County area. Alexis Perez worked the location for four years, having started as a sophomore in high school. “I do like working here. It’s very family oriented. We’re all sisters in a way; we all hang out outside of work.”
For Perez, this is just one of three jobs and the closure of the business frees up her time, but she said it does displace some of the other, younger girls.
Gill has been offered positions at other Rita’s locations and Walgreens, but she said they’re not the same as the Rita’s culture in Chestertown. “I may go work for [Rita’s] corporate. I may be able to go infuse some of the enthusiasm and love of customer service at the corporate level,” she said.
During the time at this location, Gill said she had the opportunity to serve the community. “I’ve got to watch children literally from being held in their mother’s arms to being able to order their own treat at the window. And that’s going to be really hard,” she said. “I’ve actually been able to watch some WC students grow from freshmen to seniors and some of them, I think I became kind of like the [TV show] ‘Cheers’ bar where they came and talked and told me about their classes, and I’m really, really going to miss that…The good news is we always close in October, so I’m not going to feel it until the spring. But the spring is going to hit me hard.”

The Chestertown Rita’s location closed Oct. 2 permanently so the owners could focus on other prospects.

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