After dishing out sweets to Washingtonians for the past 47 years, Gifford Ice Cream Co. has gone out of business.
The company's doors were shut a week ago after a Baltimore bankruptcy judge ruled that the company should be liquidated because its year-old attempts to reorganize into a profitable company were unsuccessful.
Gifford's Silver Spring store and its adjacent ice cream factory and administrative offices have been closed, leaving about 30 employes without a job -- and without their last paychecks.
The Baileys Crossroads store remains open, only to sell all of the remaining Gifford's ice cream. "I have enough ice cream to see me through two weeks," said Calver Hedley, who was the Silver Spring store manager and in charge of Gifford's payroll.
Hedley said he moved to the Baileys Crossroads store to sell the remaining ice cream in order to meet Gifford's last payroll.
Another Gifford's store in Vienna will remain open, operated by a new owner who bought the store and its name last fall. However, that store is selling Hershey's ice cream. Its owner hopes to acquire the rights to Gifford's recipes and once again sell the rich ice cream in his store.
Meanwhile, Robert Gifford, the 47-year-old head of the family chain, is no where to be found -- even his bankruptcy lawyer has been unable to locate him. "A lot of us are in the dark in this case," said attorney Joel Sher when asked the total of Gifford's final debts. "I haven't talked to him in months and tried to reach him a few weeks ago. It is hard to get in touch with him," Sher said.
Fairfax County police confirmed that a missing-person report was filed on Gifford earlier this month; however, since Gifford lived in Montgomery County, Fairfax County referred the matter to that jurisdiction.
Yet Montgomery County does not have a missing-person report filed on Gifford. "We chose not to write one," said Sgt. Harry Geehreng, public information officer for Montgomery County police. "Somebody attempted to make a report and for whatever reason, an investigator decided not to write a missing-person report."
The demise of the once four-store chain started by Robert Gifford's father came after numerous new ice cream chains such as Haagen-Dazs, Baskin Robbins, Steve's and Bob's entered the Washington market in the late 1970's. Founder John Gifford died in 1976.
In contrast to the new chains, Gifford's stores were reminiscent of old ice-cream parlors with traditional flavors, small tables, waitresses and candy counters. The new parlors offer more exotic flavors in smaller stores in high-volume locations.
When Gifford's tried to compete, "it continued to build large stores that offered waitress service," noted Bob Weiss, head of Bob's Famous Homemade Ice Cream. "Ice cream just isn't sold that way anymore. They were just doomed, drowning in rents and carrying costs, with three times as much equipment and two times as much space as they needed," he said.
"It was not operated properly," noted Carlo S. Scazella, the Gaithersburg businessman who bought the Vienna store. "To get a complete line of product was very rare. The financial controls at the store level were nonexistent, and there were personnel problems -- there was no manager, only part-time people, for example, at the Baileys Crossroads store," Scazella said.
Sher estimates that Gifford's left $350,000 in debt, with the largest amount -- about $150,000 -- owed to the Internal Revenue Service.