Bob Gerenser, heir to the Gerenser Exotic Ice Cream mini-empire, former borough council member, former president of the Independent Merchants Association, historical reenactor, karaoke artist, and well-known New Hope personality today lost his multi-year battle to retain ownership of the landmark New Hope business his parents founded.
New owners Marlene and Larry Panzica of New Hope say they plan to refurbish the structure and re-open an ice cream business. Marlene Panzica is well-known locally as a former New Hope-Solebury School Board member and vice-president.
The Panzicas say they’re still figuring out what their priorities will be in terms of renovation and proceeding through the borough’s somewhat complex approval process, but it was clear the couple was dedicated to having the spot remain an ice cream outlet, whether ultimately to include milkshakes and/or go all the way to a Johnny Rocket-style retro malt shop or not.
On Monday, Gerenser’s shop had posted on its Facebook site, “Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream is closed at our location at 22 South Main Street, New Hope. But don’t be alarmed! We have big plans in the works and we will be back bigger and better! Thank you to all our faithful and loyal supporters! Keep watching this page for updates!”
Bob’s father, Stephen J. Gerenser, was teaching at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and would meet his girlfriend Julia Pelikan who lived and worked in Manhattan in New Hope, the half-way mark, says a now-defunct historical page. The young couple were married and made plans to settle in New Hope and raise a family. One of their favorite places to meet was a little restaurant called the “Village Snack Shop.” When they discovered it was for sale, they bought it and a new business was born. Mrs. Gerenser’s unique recipes helped the little restaurant to survive and grow. Later, Stephen discovered a small ice cream machine in one of the storage rooms of their new establishment. Stephen was raised in a dairy in New Jersey, and the rest is history.
Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream emerged, along with a handful of shops and eateries, as the backbone of commercial New Hope supporting the Bucks County Playhouse crowd. For families accustomed only to chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream, flavors like “honeydew” and “African violet” seemed magical, and lines snaked for blocks. In recent years, the business had diminished and fallen into disrepair, despite efforts by Gerenser and his partner. Much of that can be blamed on the three big floods of the past ten years and a nasty fight with the county over mandatory water hookup. Many local teenagers over the years enjoyed their first taste of employment behind the ice cream counter there.
And so Captain Bob, as he is known to many, will leave the ice cream business bearing his family name for now. A new local family will try their luck, and the good news is that ice cream will continue to flow from 22 S. Main St. A momentous day indeed.