Popular Ellicott City ice cream shop Soft Stuff gets a makeover

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Al Goldman, 73, of Ellicott City, and his wife, Monika, 65, sat in their car in the parking lot of Soft Stuff on Route 40 in Ellicott City, each licking their favorite cones. Monika had ordered chocolate, and Al was eating a banana-vanilla twist — he likes to mix the weekly flavor with vanilla.

Goldman said he's been coming to Soft Stuff, which opened in 1984, for "as long as I can remember," sometimes stopping for a treat at the old-fashioned ice cream stand as often as three times a week.

As a longtime customer, he's not happy that the wooden stand will soon be torn down and replaced with an indoor ice cream parlor.

"This is kind of cute, kind of rural," he said, looking at the stand, with its long wooden ramp that on warm summer nights is often completely filled with people of all ages patiently waiting to step up to the two windows to order their cones, sundaes, snowballs and other treats.

But Goldman said he will "most likely" visit the new Soft Stuff. "Their flavor is like no other," he said. Besides, "they give a generous portion."

Currently, Soft Stuff is all that remains on a site that once included the Forest Diner and the Forest Motel. Owners Michael and Steven Weal, who started the ice cream stand when they were already owners of the Forest Motel, are now developing the property as Forest Green, with 75,000 square feet of retail space and 38 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

Soft Stuff is known for its premium soft-serve ice cream, always offered in vanilla and chocolate, with other flavors in rotation. Toppings include peanuts, sprinkles and hot fudge. In recent years, fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt and snowballs were added to the menu.

The current stand will close sometime in October, depending on weather, said Michael Weal. "Right now we're planning to stay open most of October," he said, but added, "if we get bad weather and it gets cold, we may close sooner than that because we have quite a bit to do."

Weal said he was hopeful that Soft Stuff will reopen in the spring in the first of the new buildings, which will contain about 25,000 square feet of retail space.

The new Soft Stuff will be about 1,500 square feet, with seating at cafe-style tables for about 35 people, he said. While Soft Stuff in its current form is open April through October, the new shop will be open nearly year-round, he said. More flavors of soft-serve ice cream, frozen yogurt and snowballs will be added, and there will be other desserts and snacks sold as well, though Weal said the details have not yet been worked out.

Also, it will have indoor restrooms.

"When you get inside the place, what you will see will be similar to what you see now," said Weal. People will still stand in line at the windows to order, but the lines will be inside.

And that aspect of the new operation "sounds good" to Dennis Skelton of Columbia, who was waiting in his car on the same recent Saturday while his wife, Connie, stood at the window ordering cones for the two of them. "It'll be nice on hot days not to sit in the car."

While Soft Stuff has never had formal seating, until recently several picnic tables near the motel were a popular spot for eating ice cream before it melted. Now those tables are gone.

Samantha Shaffer, of Catonsville, who was taking her twin siblings, Emily and Zach, 13, for ice cream, said she was not happy that such a favorite destination would not be the same as it was when she was a child. "Now it will be just like every other place," she said.

As for Al Goldman, he has a plan for how he and his wife will mark the closing of Soft Stuff. "She's always wanted to have a banana split," he said. "We promised ourselves we would have a banana split before it closes."

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