Friday, October 17, 2014

Snoasis: Frozen in Salt Lake Valley Pop-Cultural History

With a healthy workforce of six children ranging in ages from 10 to 20, my parents decided to purchase a snow cone shack in the mid-1990s. I was 16 (probably about to turn 17). With our family friends, the Clements, we were the first to bring the Snoasis franchise to Utah (from Idaho). Business those first few years was mediocre and I remember some long days looking out that small window. The Snoasis grew in popularity every year and by the time I was working summers or weekends as a college student, it was quite commonplace to literally shave ice for an entire 5 hour shift (and well into the night). The line would stretch fifty yards sometimes. We jokingly referred to it as “Club Snoasis,” but there was no joke about it, it was the weekend meeting place in Cottonwood Heights (Highland and Fort Union). The place was still hopping at 10 O’Clock on any Saturday night.

My younger siblings, especially Daniel and Deborah (the youngest), have a particularly intimate story to tell. Daniel once reckoned (through a fairly sophisticated mathematical equation) that he had shaved a quarter of a million snowcones  (and this was a few years before it closed mind you).
With just over a decade of operation, by essentially the same staff, the Snoasis became a bit of a folk-standard in the area. But it was not just southeastern Salt Lake County. People would come from all over the Valley, and even Davis and Utah Counties. It was not rocket science but there was something to it. Was it love? Was it skill? Was it dedication? It was probably a mix of these things, but I think it was mostly the beastly, loud and temperamental “old school” shaver machines we used. There was some art to it for sure.
We watched couples date, marry and have children. We watched children go from kindergarten through high school graduation, we saw mothers through multiple pregnancies, smokers through several attempts to quit and cancer patients through their treatments (many, though not all, with successful outcomes).  
Even in Oregon I will occasionally run into someone who has a “Snoasis Story” to tell. A few years back David Archuleta was being interviewed by a local television station and when asked if he had been back to his old favorite haunts while in town, he noted that he had been back to Snoasis! I think only then did some of us reflect on that young dark haired, smiley kid who frequented the shack.

Ma and Pa Callister paid their employees a bit beyond the prevailing wage for folks our age. For this reason, high school summer Snoasis jobs turned into College summer Snoasis jobs. Many a joke was cracked about the tractor beam of the Snoasis which WOULD NOT LET YOU GO. A chance to live at home, spend your days with family and make a reasonable income were too much for most. For a time it was possible to stop by the Snoasis and have your snow cone prepared by two or more individuals with advanced degrees.
A stint at Snoasis became a right-of-passage for recent (or courting) in-laws. Many (Annie, Angie and Deena in particular) contributed more than just a stint. Only one Callister in-law was not an official employee, but Stephen’s credentials lay in the fact that he had been a steady customer for almost the entire decade of the shack’s existence.

Snoasis paid for many a Callister’s (or Callister cousin’s) college tuition, it paid for weddings, it paid for band equipment, it paid for vacations to Europe, to South America, to Southern Utah. It became a thread that was woven between the members of the family, from shaving ice and squirting juice, to shaking sugar water and counting money at the end of the day.
Dad had a respectable full time job elsewhere, so Mom was the boss. She shared these responsibilities as time went on, but there was never a time when she wasn’t the “Sugar Momma!” She filled in for many an otherwise occupied employee and could shave and fill as fast as anyone.
In the Snoasis’ later years the staff started to consist of fewer and fewer family members. Employees remained close friends and acquaintances but was definitely a changing dynamic. Developments at the Dan’s Grocery store (where Snoasis was located) had made the annual permitting process increasingly difficult. Nothing that couldn’t be overcome, but with the family dynamic waning, Mom was losing her Snoasis steam. It just wasn’t filling the same niche that it had. The shack was still at its prime, still had very long lines and a huge following, but Mom and Dad weren’t feeling it anymore.
People were hesitant to believe it, when they were told that summer would be the last. On the  last day people showed up (as they always did on the last day in September) with coolers to purchase their “winter stores.” When the following summer rolled around again, the Snoasis building sat in my parent’s back yard.  
For the next few years my mother refused to entertain the thought of selling it. The building had too many memories and had really become a sort of mascot for our family. I am still impressed by my Dad’s patience with this, considering that the business had ENORMOUS goodwill and they were constantly receiving attractive offers. But there the Snoasis sat. Mom needed time.
A few years later, the time came. Mom sent out a picture to all of us of the backyard WITHOUT the Snoasis. I am not sure how my siblings felt but I doubt that they could have avoided the immediate sense of absence and loss that I felt. It was the right thing to do for sure, but it was the final seal on an era that will forever fill evenings of storytelling and reminiscing: The funny regulars, everyone’s weird work corks, the times we got robbed, the times we were on the news, fear that we would have to show the inspector how to run the hot water (mom was the only who knew .. I think…), my old car, Sheldon hauling sugar water down to the masses, ice and juice floating in Cream, Dan and Jake’s music, Rachel yelling at the high school thugs, and just hours of sibling association.
I don’t know where that Snoasis is now but I imagine it is satisfying a new generation of pregnant woman, keeping a new generation of cavities going and hopefully creating memories and bringing people together again.


Mushbir Nidhal said...

Thanks for sharing..........

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