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Economy forces longtime Ben & Jerry's shop to close
By Kim Mikus | Daily Herald Staff

Katie Becker serves ice cream to customer Rochelle Korn of Riverwoods at Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop Thursday. The Vernon Hills shop is closing after 24 years in business at Milwaukee Ave. and Route 60.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Owner Morgan Herron, center, is closing his Vernon Hills Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop after 24 years. Employee Kristin Becker makes waffle cones in the shop Thursday afternoon.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

After 24 years in business, Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop in Vernon Hills is closing at the end of the business day Tuesday.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/19/2010 12:00 AM

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Stopping at Ben & Jerry's in Vernon Hills just about every day after lunch, Dan Hanigan admits he's addicted to the Chocolate Therapy ice cream.

Hannigan, who works nearby in Libertyville, was devastated to learn that the ice cream shop, a longtime staple at the southeast corner of Route 60 and Milwaukee Avenue, is closing next week.

"I think I'm going to go into withdrawal," said Hanigan, a systems analyst who lives in Villa Park.

Many loyal and longtime customers share Hannigan's reaction when they hear the local ice shop, known for its funky flavor names, is calling it quits after 24 years - but just not enough of them in a down economy.

"I'm closing with a heavy heart," said Morgan Herron, who has owned the local franchise for the past five years. "It's really tough," he said.

The store will close for the last time at the end of the day Tuesday after it holds its annual Free Cone Day, a promotion that offers free scoops and attracts huge crowds.

"That's our last hurrah," said Herron, 47, who owned several McDonald's restaurants in Ohio before relocating to this area.

The economy and dynamics at River Tree Court shopping center are forcing the Lake Forest man to close the ice cream shop that employs 15 people during the summer.

The store features super premium ice cream at higher prices than traditional ice cream parlors, and Herron said that as the recession deepened over the past two years, he has watched volume and business drop.

"Business has slowed down and people stopped coming," Hanigan said, estimating that sales have dipped between 35 and 40 percent in the past two years. "It has been challenging to keep the doors open. We ran at a loss for the last two years."

Herron was planning to renegotiate his lease in an effort to help make ends meet. Instead, the company running the shopping center told him he would have to move his business to make room for the national restaurant chain Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which is set to take his prime corner location as well as two stores next-door.

"The choice to move somewhere else in the mall was not smart," Herron said. While he understands the business logistics of the mall's decision, it doesn't make closing any easier.

In addition to leaving the customers, Herron said, it will be difficult to say goodbye to his employees, many of whom have been at the store longer than he has.

Katie Becker, who now works as manager, started scooping ice cream when she was 16. Her sister Kristen and brother Joey also work at the neighborhood shop.

"I grew up here," said Katie, 24, who also goes to the College of Lake County. "We're a staple. There are a lot of upset customers."

Herron has told the employees that he's not quite ready to call it quits altogether. Down the road, he's hoping to find a new location for Ben & Jerry's. But first, he'll hold an auction Wednesday to sell his equipment.

If he is able to reopen, he says he'll start from the ground up with the new Ben & Jerry's brand look.

"I would love to reopen, if I could find the right place. I'm open to suggestions," said Herron adding, "I keep looking for a new mall with the right demographics."