The music plays. Ears perk up. Children and adults alike rush out to the edge of the street, awaiting one of summer’s quintessential figures — Ice Cream Santa.
Better known to friends and family as Kenneth Starr, the ice cream man with the flowing white beard makes his rounds throughout Danville and Pittsylvania County every summer.
At one of the Robert Woodall automotive sales lot Tuesday, two young ladies rushed out of the service center when they heard the music from the Town Clown ice cream truck.
Mi’Anjel Farmer accompanied her younger cousin, Meloni Moore, who selected a Blue Bunny brand Powerpuff Girls ice cream snack.
“I got bubble gum ice cream and I wanted it,” Moore said.
The ice cream character’s eyes were made of two gumballs for an extra treat at the end.
Farmer chose to share in the moment with her cousin by going with her to the truck.
“She loves ice cream,” Farmer said.
The girls’ grandmother, Penny Holmes, also selected a frozen treat from the Town Clown truck.
“I just had to taste it too,” Holmes said.
Owning the popular Starr’s Town Clown ice cream truck business wasn’t what Starr, 63, intentionally set out to do for a career.
“I used to work for RC Cola, but I had to make a change of plans,” he explained.
A back injury and two surgeries forced Starr into a different line of work. His cousin owned an ice cream truck business for a while and then sold it. That’s when Starr jumped on board.
“I managed the business” for the new owner, Starr said.
Starr entered the business in 1987 and learned the ropes. Three years later, he owned and operated his own truck.
In its heyday, the Town Clown brand sent as many as 20 ice cream trucks throughout the community. Now, there’s just one.
The truck is unmistakable. Its signatures include ice cream pictures and prices, a friendly clown painted on the side, a painted dragon with a hole for a mouth on the door, a tribute to the Dan River Wildcats for their 2017 2A state championship win in varsity baseball, and Ice Cream Santa at the wheel.
Starr earned the festive nickname from both his long, white beard and the fact he helps the big man up North by sitting in at local holiday events that require Santa’s presence.
When he’s not selling ice cream or listening to Christmas wishes, Starr drives a school bus.
“I deal with kids all year-round,” he said.
Owning and operating his truck for nearly three decades, there are a couple of notable changes in Starr’s business. Mainly, he spends more time motoring through the county now than he does in the city.
“It’s more of the Country Clown now,” Starr said.
After 30 years on the road, Ice Cream Santa knows where to roll to find the customers.
“I’ve been in this a pretty good while,” Starr said. “I’ve reset the old routes and built them up better.”
The prices also aren’t the same as they were in the early 1990s, though. Ironically, though prices have gone up, it’s harder to profit.
Part of the operating costs goes into physically getting the product.
“I go 141 miles to get ice cream,” Starr said.
The brand name ice cream snacks come from a facility located in Charlotte, North Carolina. He travels once a week to stock up.
One aspect of the business hasn’t changed — the smiles Ice Cream Santa receives when his four-wheel sled rolls through the neighborhood.
While many kids rush to stop the ice cream man, they aren’t the only ones who enjoy a cool dessert every now and then.
“It’s the parents and old people too. There are people that are 100 years old that come out to get ice cream,” Starr said. “I say you’re still a kid at heart.”
Starr takes time with each client as they make their selection. Sometimes, that requires putting his truck in reverse for kids who didn’t quite make it to the street in time.
“There’s never a dull moment when I’m around. When I used to run a lot in the city, I would be like a turtle. These other ice cream trucks would run up and down the road,” Starr said. “I would go frontwards, backwards.”
Even though he’s owned his truck for almost 30 years, Starr doesn’t plan to stop his summer runs anytime soon — or ever.
“My wife says she’s going to bury me in my truck,” Starr said. “I’ll probably be selling ice cream when I go.”