Ice cream shop hopes to continue West Side revival

By GREG STONE, Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Lemon appears to be an early customer favorite at Dancing Dog Ice Cream. If that sounds surprising to you, it’s also a surprise to its co-owner, Bob Herrick.

Odds are, Herrick will continue to perfect the distinctive flavor. Maybe it needs no more tinkering. When it comes to running West Side businesses and acquiring West Side properties, he and partner Steve Duffield seldom yield a lemon.

Without fanfare, the two — partners in business and life — have acquired dozens of buildings in a part of town associated with crime and blight. Six of their holdings are rooted in the somewhat trendy Elk City district, which comprises southern Bigley Avenue; Washington Street West from the Elk River to Maryland Avenue; and northern Tennessee Avenue, near its intersection with Washington Street.

The two heavily invested in West Side commercial and residential properties in the early 1990s.

“And we saved like the dickens,” Herrick said.

Herrick and Duffield, familiar to some as the commercial supervisor in the Kanawha County Assessor’s Office, then rented a space on Bigley in the same building as Dutchess Bakery. Winter Floral was born. Those spaces are now filled by Mea Cuppa coffee shop and a chiropractor.

In fits and starts, lurching and creeping, Elk City has slowly taken shape over the past 10 years or so. Herrick, a New Martinsville native, and Kanawha Valley product Duffield have had ringside seats, first from a rented spot on Bigley, then to a more prominent role as owners of a handsome red brick building on the corner of Bigley and Washington.

It was from there that Herrick, from his second-floor office perch, would visualize the street below as a safe, hospitable place to live, work and shop. The district continues to strive for that permanent designation, one storefront at a time. Two principal cogs in the wheel have been the development efforts of Herrick/Duffield and Tighe Bullock, who plans to open a large distillery soon, to add to his other ventures in the district.

“It truly means a lot to me to have this part of town healthy,” Herrick said. “Steve moved his mother to the West Side. You don’t do that if you’re not committed to the area. We could have chosen to invest in other cities or in other parts of this city.”

The two live on the West Side and own six buildings in Elk City. Winter Floral, Backstage Bodywear, Dancing Dog Ice Cream, Boutique 218 and Choice Medical call Herrick’s buildings home. He and Duffield own the building that houses Dancing Dog and Boutique 218, next to Artists’ Alley and Bullock’s Staats hospital building. It’s Dancing Dog that now commands the pair’s attention. And, since its opening two weeks ago, that of others.

Andrea Bledsoe, 49, of Chapmanville, works just up the street, at Green Infusion, a cannabis supply shop. She stopped in Monday at Dancing Dog for a scoop each of mint chocolate and raspberry.

“What’s not to like about ice cream?” she asked. “It’s refreshing. I used to be someone to walk to a convenience store for a candy bar, but this is much better. It’s something new for the West Side.”

Herrick said he had been a fan of Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream in downtown Charleston for years and wanted to open up a shop comparable in quality. That means shooting for a super-premium concoction between 14% and 18% milk fat, although Herrick won’t say exactly where Dancing Dog’s fat content lands. Super-premium ice cream can’t be full of air either. The denser the better. The Oreo meets both criteria, creamy and thick. Texture and mouth feel are important qualities, two criteria the Oreo meets with ease.

All recipes are cobbled together from various sources, and then Herrick tinkers with them. So far, business is good, although Herrick is still experimenting with hours. Currently, the establishment is open from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Herrick loves the 206 Washington St. West location, near what he calls the “sweet spot” of Elk City. Washington Street is full of traffic, motorists exiting the interstate to head to Edgewood or North Charleston. There are plans to clean up the space between Herrick’s building and Bullock’s Staats hospital building and string lights between them, a la downtown’s Brawley Walkway.

Inside Dancing Dog — named for how happy a dog is to see you upon arrival — a white, tin ceiling is set off by LED lights mounted on sleek electric cables. Tables and other furnishings are not top dollar, Herrick freely admits, but very presentable.

The building once served as a five-and-dime and, most recently, Lee’s Dance Studio. When Herrick and Duffield bought it, they split it into two storefronts, Dancing Dog and Boutique 218, which is separately operated.

“I remember when we didn’t have anything but Chris’ Hot Dogs, Dutchess Bakery and Kelly’s Men’s Shop,” Herrick said.

None of those are around now, but determined souls such as Herrick are finding replacements.