Baltimore staple cools off customers and gives back

One local family is helping both vacationers and locals beat the heat, while bringing a little bit of Baltimore to the beach and offering help to a good cause. On the weekend of the Fourth of July, Glen Shoemaker, his wife, Rosanne, and their daughter Sarah opened up a small snowball stand along Route 26 in Millville, and through the next few months, the weekend stand plans to bring some relief from the summer sun.

“I used to run a snowball stand outside of Fort Mead, Md.,” Glenn Shoemaker recalled. After relocating to Sussex County, he noticed something was missing. “When we moved down here, we realized you couldn’t get an authentic Baltimore-style snowball in the area.”

The Shoemakers are offering a little taste of ‘Bawlmer’ at the beach with authentic Batimore snow balls on Route 26 in Millville.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
The Shoemakers are offering a little taste of ‘Bawlmer’ at the beach with authentic Batimore snow balls on Route 26 in Millville.
Sporting a “crunchy,” granular, ice texture, rather than the smoother consistency of Italian or shaved ice, a true Baltimore ’ball boasts sweet flavor over a refreshing cup full of bits of ice, noted Rosanne.

“It really cools you off,” she said. “It’s simple and it’s fun. Kids love coming up and seeing all the flavors.”

And the Shoemakers’ stand proudly serves 30 different flavors, from traditional cherry to classic egg custard, and a wide variety of others. There is even marshmallow and chocolate available to top a snowball.

So what makes the Baltimore snowball so authentic? Halfway through the 19th century, dating back to the American Industrial Revolution, ice was made commercially available. Ice houses in New York would commonly send shipments of ice to warmer climates, such as Florida.

During the trek, wagons carrying large blocks of ice would pass directly through Baltimore, where children would run up to the wagons in hopes of scoring small scrapings of ice, not unlike the neighborhood ice cream trucks seen so often today.

Soon, mothers began to have flavorings ready for the children returning home with the ice, with egg custard (made from eggs, vanilla and sugar) being one of the most popular in Baltimore.

Later, through the Great Depression and World War II, the inexpensive treat spread nationwide, picking up the nickname “Hard Times Sundae” and “Penny Sundae.” The fad quickly faded on the national scale and, today, the snowball is most frequently associated with Mid-Atlantic locales, such as New Jersey and Philadelphia. But it’s Baltimore that made it what it is today.

Glenn Shoemaker has even gone so far as to stock his small stand with equipment and syrups from KoldKiss, a Baltimore-based company recognized as one of the oldest and largest manufacturers of ice shavers and syrups in the United States.

“We constantly have people stopping by and telling us they haven’t seen a snowball stand like this in over 10 years,” said Glenn Shoemaker. “It’s the real deal.”

But to really get it right, you have to recognize the origin, like a true Baltimore native.

“Most people know it as ‘Baltimore,’” explained Shoemaker of the hometown of the Orioles, the National Aquarium and, yes, snowballs. “But those that are from the area call it ‘Bawlmer.’ It’s just how you say it!”

To reinforce the authenticity of his snowballs, Shoemaker received a little help from up-and-coming local artist, Jenny Doll, who fashioned the snowball signs along Route 26, notifying the beach-bound traffic of the “Bawlmer” treats. A decorative blue snowball sign, and another one, reading “A Little Taste of Bawlmer at the Beach, Hon,” now greet passers-by with a true Baltimore welcome.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Doll, a Manassas, Va., native and art major out of James Madison University. “I love to get my hands in anything I can, from painting to glass and sculpting. I’m working on a portfolio right now, and this was something fun for me to do.”

The summertime traffic can get a little overwhelming along the Route 26 strip as it inches toward Ocean View and Bethany Beach, and stopping at the Shoemakers’ snowball stand offers a vacationers near the end of their journey a chance to stretch their legs and get a taste of a summertime treat.

“We’ll have traffic backed up from the light,” said Shoemaker of the intersection of Routes 26 and 17, “and they’ll be lined up well past 84 Lumber. Lots of people see the sign and pull off to grab a quick break with their kids. It’s a great way for us to meet people from out-of-town. We love talking to the customers.”

But the value of the stand goes even deeper than bringing a taste of home to the beach. In 2008, Glenn and Rosanne Shoemaker lost their 18-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Ann, to a six-year battle with Hodgkins lymphoma.

The community came together to show their support, and upon the completion of Justin’s Beach House – the Bethany Beach-based, non-profit respite home for families dealing with cancer and other severe illnesses – a bedroom in the house was dedicated in Elizabeth Shoemaker’s memory.

Through the summer months, tips accumulated at the snowball stand will be collected and eventually donated to Justin’s Beach House.

“This community is so tightly knit and caring,” said Rosanne Shoemaker. “We want to be able to give back to others and help who we can. For families coming to Justin’s Beach House, we have walked in their shoes. We know what they’re going through, and it’s so nice to help out and be there for them.”

“We wanted to give something to the customers that would also give back to what the Justin W. Jennings Foundation has done for so many others,” said Glenn Shoemaker. “We live across from Justin’s Beach House, and it’s great to see it filled up this summer. To look out the window and see kids out front and lights on throughout the house gives you a wonderful feeling.”

The Shoemakers’ snowball stand, located just west of Hocker’s Grocery and Deli on Route 26 in Clarksville, will be open through Labor Day, on Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 8 p.m.