It is Bob Tumulo's dream to see this scene duplicated in dozens - maybe hundreds - of locations. Tumulo is co-owner of three Rita's (Real Italian) Water Ice stands, but he thinks Rita's could become the Dairy Queen of water ice. In other words, he is attempting to sell franchises.
John Reynolds, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association in Washington, D.C. - after first asking: "What's water ice?" - said that, to his knowledge, Tumulo is the first to attempt franchising for this product.
Tumulo is a Philadelphia firefighter who first got fired-up on the subject of water ice six years ago, when he decided to try to find some "part-time, seasonal business" to supplement his income.
"I bought the equipment from an old Italian gentleman in South Philadelphia and part of the deal was that he had to teach me how to use it."
Tumulo formed a partnership with his mother, Betty. The Rita for whom the business is named is his wife.
The Tumulos decided to open a kind of water-ice specialty shop - with a revolving list of 13 flavors. They would not only make their own water ice but, to the extent possible, it would be "all natural." That is, the fruit syrups are made from real fruit.
At Rita's, the blueberry water ice contains whole blueberries, the strawberry has pieces of real strawberries, and ditto banana, cherry, and watermelon. The grape is an artificial flavor because real grapes just don't work in water ice. And vanilla and chocolate, of course, aren't fruits.
Anyway, as Tumulo tells the tale, the first Rita's opened in 1984 on a rented front porch at I-95 and Woodhaven Road, across the street from the Woodhaven Mall. Success there led to a second Rita's - this one in a former railroad caboose that once served as a hot dog stand at Academy and Red Lion roads. And that led to a third on the Rising Sun Avenue site, which in an earlier incarnation was a gas station.
The garage half of the site has become Rita's central syrup processing center.
Obviously, even though Rita's remains a seasonal operation - open only between late spring and fall - it has grown beyond the usual definition of ''part-time sideline." So although Tumulo, a firefighter for 16 years, continues to fit his water ice duties around his fire department schedule, other members of his family work at Rita's full time.
Mother Betty handles the books. Brother John is in charge of getting the flavors to the locations. Wife Rita, and their two daughters, plus his father and assorted cousins, are among the firm's 35 employees.
Full-time, says Tumulo, means working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for 26 weeks while the weather is warm. For some, the day starts on Rising Sun Avenue at 6 a.m., whipping up that day's batches of water ice. The stores are open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Tumulo said the stores gross between $100,000 and $150,000, depending on the location - and net about 20 percent to 30 percent.
Each location, he said, is different. "At Woodhaven, 99 percent of the customers drive in. At Academy Road, most walk there. On Rising Sun Avenue, it's a mixture."
"When we started," he recalled, "there were only two other water ice stands in the Northeast. Now, there are 20 and I think that's because others are following our lead."
He reasoned that if others were going to open water ice stands anyway, why not make a business out of helping others get started? "I took part in a franchise show. I've held seminars. We've advertised only in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware where people have heard of water ice. And we've had about 200 inquiries so far. One man from Fairless Hills has given us a $2,000 deposit to reserve that area for himself."
How much is a water ice franchise? Fifty thousand dollars, said Tumulo. Half of that covers the cost of equipment. He plans to help franchisees obtain locations at or near shopping malls - the type of locations that have worked for him. As Tumulo plans it, Rita's will continue to benefit through the sale of the flavored syrups, but not through collecting a percentage of franchisee's sales, as is the case in many franchise operations. He said he doesn't want to worry about checking books. He has enough to do now, managing three water ice stands and chasing fires.