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Chaps, the iconic Charlottesville ice cream parlor, opens second location

For nearly 40 years, there was only ever one Chaps.

But if the new owners of downtown Charlottesville’s iconic ice cream parlor know anything, it’s that sometimes a single scoop just isn’t enough.

On March 30, the second-ever Chaps opened its doors on the Corner, the busy business district adjacent to the University of Virginia a little more than a mile west of Chaps’ flagship location on the city’s Downtown Mall.

As ironic as it may sound, the folks behind the ice cream counter say they hope to tap into an "underserved market" in Charlottesville: students.

“Down on the Mall, we’d get students coming in and we’d get comments how there’s not much up on the Corner or people wanting to know if we delivered ice cream,” Rhys Aglio, Chaps’ operations manager, told The Daily Progress.

The Corner officially became an ice cream desert in mid-2020, when Arch’s Frozen Yogurt, home of the “Gooey Brownie,” shuttered in the wake of the pandemic.

The decision to move into Arch’s old real estate at 104 14th St. NW was a “logical step,” Aglio said.

There are some obvious differences between the two Chaps that longtime customers will notice as soon as they walk into the new Corner location.

In the first place, the Corner spot is bigger.

“It definitely is more open in terms of just the layout,” Aglio said. “We had a bit more room to play with. It also has taller ceilings which make it feel bigger than it actually is, especially compared to the downtown original store.”

In the second place, it’s emptier. Not in regards to foot traffic, which is sure to pick up once warmer months arrive, but in regards to decor.

While the original Chaps may have opened in 1985, founder Tony Labua always said he intended the space to capture the look and feel of the soda shops and luncheonettes of the 1950s he grew up visiting: bright neon signs, firetruck-red counters, black-and-white tile floors, banquettes upholstered in a turquoise color so vibrant Southwestern jewelers could use it as a standard for quality stone. Behind the counter, a mounted television set plays a range of classic TV hits, from black-and-white episodes of “Gunsmoke” to color episodes of “Gunsmoke.” What walls aren’t paneled in mirrors are covered in framed family photos and vintage advertisements for Coca-Cola. The life-size cutout of TV personality and painter Bob Ross is a 1980s anachronism that most customers seem to forgive.

It’s all part of the cozy, kitschy — almost campy — aesthetic that has made Chaps stand out from its competitors. On summer nights, the line out the front door is so long it’s visible from the Kilwins franchise a block away.

The decorations at the new Corner location are more sparse, more minimal. But that’s by design, Aglio said. That original Chaps aesthetic is like a patina that must develop over time.

“The downtown store has been there for years now. It’s quite a lot of time to build up that character,” Aglio said. “On the Corner, we’ve got the same booth colors, the same stool colors. We transferred a lot of the 1950s diner style. But we’re trying to strike a balance where it’s not too cluttered yet. I think our starting point is somewhere in between. We don’t want to be super sterile, because a lot of the character gets lost.”

Aglio said there are plans to add more decoration to the new location over time, but he doesn’t want to give too much of those plans away.

“There might be some more life-size cutouts coming.”

While the expansion to the Corner marks a major change for the Chaps brand, one thing that won’t be changing: All Chaps ice cream will still be made locally.

“It’s all the same ice cream,” Aglio said. “We still produce everything at the kitchen in our downtown store.”

And that kitchen will be responsive to its customers, old and new, he added. Aglio said that while Chaps’ brand is classic ice cream in classic flavors, the business is interested in the tastes of the younger demographic that frequents the Corner.

“We’d like to test out new flavors, maybe more dairy-free options, to try and cater more to what the students will be interested in,” Aglio said.

The Corner location offers all the same flavors of the original downtown spot, but any new flavors created for the Corner location will also be added to the menu downtown, Aglio said.

Aglio joined the staff at Chaps in June 2022, shortly after longtime owner Labua sold Chaps to Tami Kim, an assistant professor of business administration at UVa’s Darden School of Business. Since taking over Chaps, Kim and her family have kept a low profile, declining interviews with the press. The focus, Aglio said, should be on the business.

And business is good, he said.

Already, the Corner location is generating buzz.

“It’s been good. A lot of good feedback. A lot of students seem excited that there’s finally some ice cream back down there on the Corner,” Aglio said.

Asked if there are any plans for even more locations, Aglio wouldn’t say no.

“We’ve got a lot of ideas for where things could go, but we’re definitely keeping options open,” he said. “And I think there’s a lot of room to grow. We also understand that we’re not trying to lose the appeal of the local regional homemade ice cream.”

Chaps does do some wholesale business for restaurants in Charlottesville and has even made a special flavor sold at Monticello just south of city limits, but Chaps is not available to the public in any other stores or businesses, Aglio said.

“In order to get Chaps ice cream, you have to drop by one of our stores.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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