RIPLEY — Halloween only comes around once a year, but at I Scream Sundae in Ripley, the spooky fun never ends.
The ice cream shop is just off West Main Street, where afternoon traffic rolls by relentlessly. Outside the modest brick-and-glass building, an inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters” and giant sandworm from “Beetlejuice” loiter in the parking lot — too friendly looking to be menacing.
Inside, lights hang from the ice cream shop’s ceiling and movie posters decorate the walls. A headless horseman mannequin stands guard next to a vintage “Double Dragon” video game while campy, cult movies play on a television — groan-worthy films like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and “Killer Klowns from Outer Space.”
The sound is turned down to prevent anyone from being tempted into trying to follow the plot.
Rock music plays on the speakers while customers trickle in steadily.
Charessa Wilkinson and her husband, David Westfall, opened I Scream Sundae July 1. A lifelong scary movie fan and Halloween aficionado, Westfall said Wilkinson used to turn her house into a haunted house for the local kids.
“I told her I could build whatever she wanted,” he said.
Last year, he helped her up-size her homemade haunted house into a full-blown Halloween attraction with the “Go Go Scare Show” on Academy Drive in Ripley.
They did very well, Wilkinson said. “I had 50 young adults and teenagers show up to work it.”
The realtor and Halloween fan enjoyed the experience so much, she wanted to build on it and help some of her young friends find jobs.
She had a lot of extra space inside the building where she and her business partner, Amber Thaxton Mouser, run their real estate office, Sold Sisters Realty.
“People love ice cream and I love to create,” Wilkinson said.
So, in the spring, she and her husband began working on blending her love of horror, science fiction and pop culture with an old-school ice cream shop.
When I Scream Sundae opened, people were hungry for it.
“We had a line out the door on day one,” Wilkinson said.
And they keep coming back.
The name of the store sounds like a play on the old slogan, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” but Wilkinson said that’s only a coincidence.
“I’m a P.K. — a preacher’s kid,” she said. “The name comes from a Christian punk band I used to listen to back in the 1980s.”
I Scream Sundae serves regular sundaes and cones with scare-inspired names like “Carnival Carnage” (cotton candy) or “Swamp Thing” (chocolate mint). But the shop is building its reputation with Charessa’s creations — elaborately designed, hand-dipped milkshakes named after science fiction and horror films and television shows, like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” “Night of the Living Dead” and “Mars Attacks!”
They’re decorated with candy, cake icing and popcorn, and they occasionally use dry ice. The “Stranger Things” shake is garnished with an Eggo waffle, a favorite of the character Eleven.
On a wall in the shop, they display pictures of the different creations. Every week or so, Wilkinson comes up with a new creation and the menu expands.
The latest addition is “Children of the Corn,” a caramel-flavored shake made with coconut pecan icing, a popcorn ball, candy corn, caramel drizzle and garnished with popcorn.
Wilkinson said one of her regulars suggested the name of the movie would be a good creation.
“This is what I came up with,” she said.
The ice creams and milkshake stylist said there’s a lot of trial and error and some taste testing, but between the ice cream shop, her real estate business and preparing for haunted house season, Wilkinson stays busy.
“I opened an ice cream shop and lost 10 pounds,” she laughed.
Wilkinson said her teenage employees run the place for her, though her real estate office is connected to the shop and separated by a glass wall.
Visitors come from all over the area and beyond. A couple from Maryland brought their granddaughter to the shop, Westfall said, and it’s not unusual for customers to drive two or three hours to order a milkshake.
“For a while, everybody seemed to be coming from Meigs County, Ohio,” Wilkinson said. “We thought about putting up a sign saying we were the biggest attraction in Meigs County, without actually being in Meigs County.”
Meigs County borders Jackson County.
Wilkinson said they’re doing well, though acknowledged there isn’t much of a profit margin in her kind of business.
“I don’t know how other people make it work,” she said. “I’m doing OK, but I own the building. That’s a huge expense I don’t have to worry about.”
To broaden their customer base, Wilkinson said she planned to offer panini sandwiches and soups during weekdays for the lunch crowd, though I Scream Sundae will still be an ice cream shop.
While acknowledging her business had a definite Halloween feel to it, Wilkinson said she wasn’t worried about being pigeonholed as only a seasonal attraction. There were plenty of science fiction and horror fans out there, plenty of ice cream fans looking for something with a little pizazz and Wilkinson believed the spooky season can go year-round.
“After Halloween, I’m going to launch my ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ and Grinch-themed creations,” she said.
I Scream Sundae is at 516 W. Main St. in Ripley. They’re open noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Sundaes and floats start at $5. I Scream creations are $9. Contact I Scream Sunday at 304-532-4230.