Whitey’s Ice Cream in downtown Iowa City has closed permanently, employees say.
The former Whitey’s building, owned by Mark Ginsberg (curator of M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art), is currently undergoing renovations, and though Whitey’s management was amenable to the construction project, they say the decision to move back in became more difficult as time went on.
“We had full intentions of going back in there,” Whitey’s General Manager Scott Larson said. “The new landlord is doing a lot of renovating — updating that building and making a lot of good improvements on it — but the space that we were in, for that to happen, it was going to take a lot of our area that we had equipment in.”
Larson says that due to the age of the building, the scale of the renovations grew quickly, prompting construction workers to tear out all of the walls, as well as the ceiling. Whitey’s management decided to move all of its equipment out of the space as a result.
“Once that was done, it was evident that it wasn’t going to work for us,” Larson said. Moving back into the already-narrow ground floor would be exceedingly difficult, he said, noting that the previous Whitey’s equipment setup was already testing the limits of the space.
“[Ginsberg] was trying to keep us there,” Larson said, adding that the owner offered Whitey’s a “long” lease extension. “But we just felt that space, for us, wasn’t going to work anymore … The space was really small as it was, and the way we had it was really the only way we could operate efficiently.”
The Quad Cities-based ice cream chain will continue operating its Coralville location in the Coral Ridge Mall, store manager Matt Deblaye said.
Whitey’s management is confident that the ice cream chain will return to Iowa City in due time, as well. Larson notes that Whitey’s decision to close their downtown Iowa City location is not the result of poor store performance.
“We’ve been looking for other locations,” Larson said, adding that equipment from the former downtown location is still nearby and ready for installation. “We have it stored in Coralville, but we’re still looking for a spot.”
Deblaye suggests that the chain may be eyeing other parts of Iowa City as well.
“We do like being downtown in Iowa City, or close to downtown. It’s good for business,” he said, noting that the former downtown location would close for the slower winter months. “But I think maybe more on the east side of town, a little further east from downtown, there is a possibility of having a store, but we’ve got to wait and see how this year goes with the [Coralville location], to see how much we make here.”
Optimistic about the future of the ice cream chain, Deblaye says Whitey’s has been a “big part” of his life.
“I’d just like to see it go where I go,” Deblaye said. “I’m from the Quad Cities, so coming to school here at Iowa has been better just because I’ve had Whitey’s.”