"I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream."
Oh, how that refrain reminds me of the times I would go flying out of my front door to greet the ice cream truck that routinely cruised my neighborhood during the summer.
I always bought a chocolate eclair ice cream bar.
I became nostalgic about the sweltering summer days I spent growing up in West Baltimore after hearing that Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. is planning to open a Scoop Shop in Prince George's County. Two cones up for them.
Ben & Jerry's without a doubt has some of the best ice cream around. Man oh man, that Chunky Monkey is so sweet. And, if I weren't watching my weight, I would make Coffee Heath Bar Crunch a staple of my daily diet.
I'm tickled Cherry Garcia with the opening of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop. It means I can buy the super-premium dairy dessert more often. As it is now, I treat myself only when the pints are on sale at the supermarket. But I'm willing to make the sacrifice in the name of county economic development to budget for a cone or two now and then.
Aside from the tasty treats Ben & Jerry's serves up, Prince George's will be getting a corporation with a conscience, something we need in a county that has more than its share of what we euphemistically call "issues."
First off, Ben & Jerry's donates 7.5 percent of its pretax profits to charity.
That's not after the government takes their share, but before, which means the pot of money is bigger for the community. Last year, that came to nearly half a million dollars, a company official said. You have to send up an "Amen" for that kind of planned giving.
The Vermont-based company gives its money away in three ways: to a foundation the company has set up, to employees who volunteer in the community to fund projects they plan and through corporate grants. There's no doubt in my mind that Ben & Jerry's will be serving not just cookie dough ice cream but also real dough to needy projects in the county.
"We are really excited about the project in Prince George's," said Lee Holden, a spokesman for Ben & Jerry's. "This is an incredible opportunity for us. We think there are great possibilities in the county."
Already Ben & Jerry's is coming in with the right spirit and plan. They've decided to sell the first franchise in the county to a minority entrepreneur who lives in Prince George's. But the company won't stop there.
The ice cream maker, with help from the county's Economic Development Corp., plans to assist the franchisee in getting financing, if it's needed. In addition, the EDC and Ben & Jerry's will provide technical and management assistance.
We have Joseph J. James, head of the EDC, to thank for introducing Ben & Jerry's to the county.
James had been talking to Ben Cohen, the Ben of Ben & Jerry's, for a while. The two had worked together for several years on the board of Social Venture Network, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. It is a group of business owners and what James calls "social entrepreneurs" whose goal is to use their businesses not just to make profits but to advance positive social causes.
We also have James to thank for persuading Ben & Jerry's to make the first franchisee a minority business person.
I don't have to be delicate, so I asked James what kind of minority. Are we talking black?
"We are talking an ethnic minority," James said. "And, I believe Ben & Jerry's is sensitive to the demographics of the county."
Nationwide, Ben & Jerry's has 191 franchise operations, of which 9 percent are minority owned. That's not a bad record, and it will get better if the EDC has anything to do with it.
In fact, the EDC is playing a major role in the selection of both the franchisee and the site for the new Scoop Shop in the county. The EDC is screening the franchise applicants and will narrow the selection to three to five entrepreneurial candidates by mid-September. Ben & Jerry's then will conduct a series of interviews with the finalists.
Holden said the entrepreneur can expect to pay a $30,000 franchise fee for the right to open a Ben & Jerry's. Additionally, he estimates the business owner will have to come up with a minimum of $200,000 for the cost of setting up a shop, including construction and equipment.
My next question to James was about where this new ice cream shop might be located.
"Okay, so where in Bowie and Laurel are they looking?" I asked.
"Without limiting their choices, we are trying very hard to point them in the direction of parts of the county that have the demographics to support an upscale retailer but haven't been able to attract upscale retailers," James said.
Are you sure?
"We've made it very clear we prefer the initial store to go into an area where we have not been successful in attracting upscale retail," James said.
James said he's been talking up sites in the central part of the county. Specifically, he's been steering Ben & Jerry's to areas in Mitchellville and Fort Washington.
"Their response has been very encouraging. After the selection of candidates, we will get more serious about picking a location," James said.
Already, Ben & Jerry's is setting an example for their corporate brethren. And it is already making a difference. James said he's been contacted by other franchisers now interested in Prince George's and the same kind of deal Ben & Jerry's has with the EDC.
It never fails. Good begets good.
Talkin' Money appears every other Wednesday in the Prince George's Extra. If you have comments or column ideas, send me a letter or e-mail. You can write to me in c/o Talkin' Money, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to scoop up a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop in Prince George's County, you'll need to have the following profile or qualifications (along with the money needed to buy and set up a franchise):
* Retail or food service experience (Fast food experience a plus)
* Management, marketing, financial and communication skills
* Active participation in the community
* A good reputation in the community
* Financial stability
* A desire to own and work in the franchise
The deadline for submitting an application for a Ben & Jerry's franchise is Sept. 15. For more information about the application process, call the Economic Development Corp. at 301-429-3044.
CAPTION: Ben Cohen, right, and Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry's, during their 20th anniversary celebration in 1998.