Free ice cream! Power outage at Rittenhouse Market leads to sweet sidewalk giveaway

“Why not fill up people’s freezers instead?”

Shopping carts filled with free frozen treats outside Rittenhouse Market on Saturday

Colette Alexandre

Around the same time a system failure caused havoc at Targets around the nation, a local Philly retailer also suffered an outage. Mid-morning on Saturday, the power went down at Rittenhouse Market, the midsize corner grocery at 18th and Spruce.

But instead of meeting frustrated customers with pleas for patience, like the global retail giant scrambled to do, management at Rittenhouse Market had a sweeter answer for the disruption:

Free ice cream.

Between noon and 2 p.m. or so, neighbors who came out to shop and lucky pedestrians strolling the street were met with shopping carts loaded with frozen goodies — and encouraged to take as much as they could carry.

“We said to ourselves, ‘Hey, instead of filling up a dumpster with this ice cream, why not fill up people’s freezers?’” explained Phil Cantor, who’s been general manager at Rittenhouse Market for the past year and a half.

The bonanza caused a mini frenzy on the sidewalk, and plenty of smiles all around.

“Did I snag a carton? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t shy!” said Colette Alexandre, a Billy Penn reader who sent in pics of the impromptu goodie giveaway. “Some people made off with whole ice cream cakes. It was glorious.”

Free Turkey Hill is always a bonus

Colette Alexandre

Cantor made the call to host the handout after getting an fix-time estimate from PECO that was just a little too long for his liking. Staff immediately buttoned up all the coolers that held produce and other perishable goods, he said, keeping them at safe temperatures, but ice cream is a fickle product.

“It’s the first thing to go,” Cantor said. “And refrozen ice cream gets icy. So we were looking at the prospect we wouldn’t be able to salvage it.”

He conferred with store owner Jason Nusbaum, who agreed that the best course of action was a giveaway. Market workers cleared out 10 freezer doors worth of frozen treats — Turkey Hill, Bassetts, Dove Bars, you name it — and hauled them out front, to cheers from the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Cantor was busy running checks on every section of his stock. “We evaluated everything in the store, and made determinations at an individual level,” he said.

With a decade or so experience in the industry, the veteran grocer was prepared to take triage to the next level. Working for other chains in the past, Cantor said, he’s rented whole refrigerated trailers to keep food safe during outages caused by storms or other natural disasters.

But in this case, he didn’t have to. Right as the last cartons were being scooped out of the wire baskets rolled onto the sidewalk, the power went back on.

The outage, which PECO said was likely caused by some construction digging, affected around 1,000 total customers. By Saturday evening, the number of customers without power was down to fewer than 80, a spokesperson told Billy Penn.

Will the ice cream shelves at Rittenhouse Market be totally empty today? Not quite. There’s a deep freezer in the basement that had some backup. Why not try to move the upstairs stock there during the emergency?

Cantor considered it, he said, but decided to take a different path. “Let’s make some people happy instead!”