Anthony Parks can remember as a kid walking from his dad's store in downtown Southern Pines and hanging out at the Ice Cream Parlor.
Today, Parks owns the Southern Pines institution and at 31 years old is one of the youngest business owners in downtown Southern Pines.
As a member of the Southern Pines Business Association, Parks has seen first-hand the strength of downtown Southern Pines and has been heavily involved in trying to help it grow without losing any of the qualities that make it special.
During a typical day at the Ice Cream Parlor, when he's not cooking, Parks chats with customers, flashing his ever-present smile. He knows his regulars by name, whether they are 60 or 6.
Parks was born Nov. 27, 1974. His father, Harry, built and ran the gas station at the corner of Broad Street and Connecticut Avenue. The store is now a BP station, but in Parks' youth it was called the Convenience Store. Harry Parks owned and operated it for 30 years.
His mother, Sandra, and father divorced while Anthony was still young. She's a graphic artist living in Raleigh. His father died in 2003.
Anthony didn't know it, but he met the girl he was going to marry in day care. Her name was Lindsay Rhodes. She was a year older, and they never really were friends. He hung out with a different crowd.
Parks and all his friends grew up haunting downtown Southern Pines.
"After school all my buddies would hang out at the Convenience Store, here (the Ice Cream Parlor), at the park or train station; Rainbow Cycles, when it first opened up," he says.
He remembers watching people play tennis on the courts at Pinehurst Resort.
"It seemed like a great way to get outside on a beautiful day," he says. "I started playing when I was 6 years old."
He was 13 when he moved to the Lawn and Tennis Pro Club in Southern Pines. He worked there and played whenever he could.
Parks began his high school career at Pinecrest High School, where he played tennis, but went to The O'Neal School his junior and senior year.
Parks says he wanted smaller classrooms, but then mutters something about an incident at Pinecrest involving a female student wielding a butcher knife. Like a good politician, he refuses to elaborate.
At O'Neal his tennis team won the state championship.
After high school, Parks went to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he majored in business.
"I went to school to get a good base for whatever came up in life," he says. "I knew I wanted to work for myself, if I could."
At school, he became reacquainted with Lindsay. She transferred to UNC-G from Catawba College. They had been dating for three years when he graduated in 1997.
He started working for a business in Greensboro called Canecca, LLC, that was opening and operating upscale pubs.
He was with the business as it opened three restaurants: the Old Town Draft House and the Tap Room in Greensboro and the First Street Draft House in Winston-Salem.
After his first year, he married Rhodes in Southern Pines with a reception at the National Golf Club and an unofficial reception at R.J. Finch's. He was one of the first in his group to marry and said that it was almost like a high school reunion.
"We did it up," he says.
Parks worked as a manager for the restaurant group and dealt with hiring and firing and some menu design.
Parks and his wife both wanted to move back home at some point. When they had their first child, Fletcher, who is now 5, they decided the time was right.
"We knew it was a great place to raise a family," he said.
His dream was to open the kind of restaurant in Southern Pines that he had been working with. The building that had been the Universal Joint directly across Broad Street from his father's old store was available. It would have been perfect, but he didn't feel it could be a success at that time.
"The timing wasn't quite right," he says.
'Better and Better'
Today, Parks says that the idea would fit perfectly into downtown Southern Pines because there are more young people around.
"Then, it was too risky," he says. "But downtown is so awesome right now. And it's getting better and better."
Lindsay's father, Ed Rhodes, owns a real estate business on Broad Street and liked to eat at the Ice Cream Parlor for lunch. (Her mother also owns the Framer's Cottage on Broad Street.) He found out that the business was for sale and let Parks know.
Rhodes had an ulterior motive: He wanted to have his grandson nearby. Parks says that it's never hard to find a babysitter.
"Having family close by has been really nice," he says.
The owners of the Ice Cream Parlor wanted to sell to someone who would maintain the atmosphere of the business. Parks says he jumped at the opportunity.
A few years down the road, he seems to have pulled off a difficult feat. He's changed virtually nothing but improved the business. He changed the menu slightly and added outdoor seating, and that's about it.
But when you go into the Ice Cream Parlor at lunchtime, you can barely move, it's so packed. Maybe the difference is just that Parks is such a likable guy. He's outgoing and funny. It's not an act or strategy.
"That's just who I am," he says. "In a town like this, you have two choices: You can either jump off everybody's radar or you can make sure to treat them like you would want them to treat you."
He and Lindsay have had another child, Emily, 2, and enjoy watching the children of their customers grow up. He even has pictures of other people's kids decorating the walls. Lindsay often works at the parlor and brings the young Parks children in about once a day.
Parks has been active in the community since his return. He joined the Southern Pines Business Association when Buzz Hicks told him they needed some new blood.
"I don't feel so young anymore," he says.
He's been pushing for Southern Pines to be more family-oriented in the evenings. His idea is for a "Live at Five" get-together once a week at the depot or next to the Sunrise Theater.
Proud to Be a Part of It
Always a music lover, Parks wants to have a band perform and have some entertainment for kids, like a dunking booth.
He helped organize the inaugural Summerfest this year during the World Kids Golf Championship and is the chairman of the Springfest committee.
One of the things he misses the most about life in the city is that there was always something to do on Friday afternoon. He thinks Southern Pines can have that same spirit.
Even with all that he's doing, he finds time to get out in Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve for walks and loves to go camping and hiking.
The biggest challenge in the future for Southern Pines might be managing growth and not ruining what is great about downtown, he says. That, and parking. He doesn't worry too much about so called Planned Unit Developments (PUDs).
"Keeping Southern Pines what it is in the face of new corridors, PUD, and not resisting those, but keeping Southern Pines a viable entity," he says, "that's a new challenge."
Still, he says it's a great time to do business in Southern Pines. Restaurants are doing well. The Jefferson Inn is coming back, and the town has showed its dedication by installing new light poles and helping get the welcome center up and running.
As usual, Parks is right in the middle of everything.
"I'm really proud to be part of something that has been here this long," he says. "It's been here 30 years. The Ice Cream Parlor is as old as I am."
Matthew Moriarty may be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story