Hanging with Coneheads
How to lick a pandemic
By Maria Johnson
Are you ready for a scoop or two of good news?
Then lean in for the story of Ozzie’s, a Greensboro ice cream shop owned by local educators Adam and Betsy Greer.
In case you’ve never been to Ozzie’s, you’ll find it on Old Battleground Road, near the national military park, in a space that used to hold a cross-training gym.
These days, folks come to lift waffle cones, floats and sundaes instead of kettle bells. You’ll see Ozzie’s customers — a diverse lot by age, race and favorite flavor — fanned out across the broad lawn, posted up at picnic tables, folded into lawn chairs and perched on blankets. In the parking lot, some dangle their legs from tailgates while others hunker inside the ultimate personal protective equipment — their cars — within view of their neighbors but out of breath’s reach.
With masks at ease, they lap up glistening globes of Honey Roasted Peanut Butter, Mint Moose Tracks, Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle and other ice creams churned out by the Blue Bell and Hershey’s brands.
In a year when many businesses have been choked — if not outright suffocated — by Covid-19, Ozzie’s thrives because of many threads that wound together as the pandemic gained steam.
Shop owner Adam Greer starts the story earlier this year, one night in February. He was walking the family dog. His cell phone rang. It was someone from Cobb Animal Clinic, next door to Ozzie’s former location, farther south on Old Battleground Road.
They wanted to talk about parking.
Adam understood. Ever since 2014, when the Greers bought the ice cream shop thinking it would be a good source of sideline income and a great place for their five kids to learn about business, parking had been a pain. When the shop’s 10 spaces filled up, cars spilled over into the veterinarians’ lot. The Greers asked people not to park there, but they did anyway.
The phone call was cordial, but Adam was panicked by the time he hung up. He needed to change something, but he didn’t want Ozzie’s to lose its location beside the A&Y Greenway, a popular hiking and biking route. And he didn’t want to move to a shopping center, which he thought would rob the store of its charm.
Named for a diner that the Greer family frequented while they were on a church mission to Jinja, Uganda, in 2010 and ’11, Ozzie’s was meant to re-create the laid-back, good-to-see-you, linger-as-long-as-you-like vibe of the cafe.
Place was important.
Adam — who works full-time as lead administrator at The Covenant School, a private Christian academy housed at Centenary United Methodist Church — hopped in his truck and drove past the ice cream shop, hoping for inspiration in a string of commercial buildings up Old Battleground Road.
Hope winked in a “For Rent” sign, which Adam later learned had been put up the day before. He toured the former gym the next day. He and his wife Betsy, who works at Caldwell Academy and Hope Chapel church, agreed on signing a lease the following week.
The family descended to up fit the new location.
“The kids painted and laid tile,” says Adam. “In some ways, it was fun for us.”
Meanwhile, in March, Covid-19 clenched the country, and business at the original Ozzie’s slowed to a trickle. Then came the full force of spring.
“As the weather turned, it began to pick up,” says Adam. “People were looking for something fun to do that didn’t cost a fortune.”
It didn’t hurt that people itching for exercise flooded the greenway, as well as the adjoining necklace of parks: Jaycee Park, Country Park and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.
When Ozzie’s opened the new location at the end of April, sales ballooned, partly because of Covid boredom, partly because of proximity to the parks, and partly because of the shop’s roomier digs.
“A lot of customers have said they didn’t go to the old location because it was harder to get in and out,” he says.
Adam admits it feels weird for Ozzie’s to flourish in a year when so many other small businesses suffer.
“For that, I’m sad,” he says. “It’s a ton of work, and it’s hard to make money.”
But he’s happy that his shop provides a wholesome place for people to gather at a distance. There are several tables inside the new parlor, but most people gravitate to the lawn, where they can drift apart, yet knit together loosely — if only around the primitive pleasures of summer shade, a dollop of creamy sweetness, the nod and smile of a stranger.
The Greers stress to their teenage employees the importance of being upbeat and welcoming to all who mask and queue inside for a cone.
“We want to be a blessing, a bright spot,” he says. “One of the things Covid has done is help us understand the importance of community. I think that’s the way the Lord made us: We crave community.”
And occasionally, a scoop of Sea Salt Caramel. OH
Info: ozziesicecream.com Info: ozziesicecrea
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at