Saturday, May 30, 2009

The End of an Era

The Hilton Village Parlor and Restaurant is no more. This was the go-to spot for ice cream growing up. Sure, it was clear over in Newport News and not my native Hampton. Sure, it wasn't homemade--they served Hershey's ice cream. Sure, they were always out of at least a handful of their advertised 50 flavors. But it was a wonderful place with a unique character that will be missed.

We'd go there after plays at Peninsula Community Theatre, both as cast and audience members. We'd go there after church sometimes, a group of us. We'd go there when, well, I just got a group together for the very purpose of getting ice cream.

My best friend James and I played an acoustic set there in summer of 2002. Besides all the toys and games littering the inside--chess boards, a pool table, Foosball and more--they sometimes had musicians inside. Since the owner recognized me from my frequent patronage, I asked if my band could do an acoustic set there (even though the music usually featured inside was more of "listener-friendly" than the punk stylings of Persona Non Grata). Of course we could! She let us set up outside amongst all the old toys and giant stuffed animals that decorated their part of the sidewalk. This type of activity along with the chaotic state of the Parlor's decor caused some friction between the business and some of the other, more reserved businesses in the otherwise high-end district. But that's what the Parlor was all about: fun.

That's not to say it was all giggles. Connie, the owner was generally friendly, but occasionally testy with customers. But in a down home way, not a "I don't know, I just work here" way. The owners were just a different crop of folks. (Her husband once ran for public office, though the signs advertising this indicated he was running as a write-in vote!) But, as with many small businesses, the owners were a constant presence and had pride in running their own business. I think it was only family that ever worked there, with maybe a few close friends thrown in, which means everyone was working there because there was some sort of investment. It wasn't just a summer job at DQ.

But now DQ is the only option, but there's no such thing as Blueberry Cheesecake soft-serve. Oh, and there's Lame Stone, which will happily overcharge you for low-quality, melty ice cream. Welcome to the death of small town America. We're not talking a one-horse town here, there are 1.8 million people in the metropolitan area. Is it too much to ask for more than a handful of local eateries on our side of the water? Do we really need another chain restaurant destroying the identity of our cities into one big suburban strip mall?

The loss of the Hilton Village Parlor and Restaurant is a sad one indeed. The business represents many things to me, not just a place to get one's ice cream fix. I don't think many of my readers are from Hampton Roads, but if you are, I invite you to share any memories of the Hilton Village Parlor & Restaurant in the comments.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Just happened by your blog (thanks to your facebook newsfeed).... This is so sad. I loved that place... the weird chairs, game room in the back, the atmosphere... it was just some kind of special. So sad! Thanks for sharing!