Jim Emlaw travels the streets of Greater Pittston playing jingles and selling ice cream.
He bought the Silly Willy truck five years ago. He has a tax preparation business which keeps him busy through April 15, but he said, “I was looking for something to do in summer to keep me from working for someone.”
He and his wife Shannon decided an ice cream truck would fit perfectly, but finding one took five years. “We went to Binghamton, Allentown, looking at trucks and finally found one in Pittston,” he said.
“A truck was going up my street. I bought an ice cream from him and saw a ‘for sale’ sign on it,” he said.
The ice cream man selling his truck was James Panzetta, who was 90 years old at the time. Panzetta figured it was time to get out of the business when his wife laid in front of the truck to stop him from going out.
Panzetta had retired once before, selling the truck he called Chilly Willy to an entrepreneur in Scranton. He missed it and started Silly Willy, now the only ice cream truck regularly running Greater Pittston streets.
Emlaw tagged along with Panzetta for a week for a crash course in ice cream truckery. He proved to be a quick study. Thirty years experience as a bartender in restaurants and banquets at the Woodlands helped.
“Making sundaes is like making a drink but instead of serving alcohol to adults its serving ice cream to kids, and a lot of adults, too. I picked it up pretty fast,” he said.
Panzetta, now 95, is as sharp as ever and Emlaw hits him with an ice cream question once in a while.
Emlaw learned Panzetta’s route and expanded. He’ll try an area, or a street, three times, if he doesn’t sell enough he moves on. He works Avoca, Pittston, Duryea, Wyoming, Exeter and West Pittston; Birchwood Estates and Blueberry Hill, but isn’t limited to those stops. Search Silly Willy on Facebook for his posts about where he is going on a particular day.
Emlaw said while the COVID-19 restrictions have hurt the event end of his business, like parties, nursing homes and schools, “We’re doing great on streets because everybody’s home.”
He said there is a lot of competition with ice cream stands and stores in the area, but he has the advantage of convenience.
“You don’t have to pack the kids in the car to go somewhere,” he said.
Another advantage is price. His products are generally lower than the brick and motor stores.
“I have items for as low as a dollar,” he said. “He sells chocolate, vanilla and twist soft ice cream, sundaes, banana splits, soda floats, shakes and sno-cones.
His best seller, aside from the soft ice cream cones, is Sponge Bob. “Sponge Bob ice pops. Kids love Sponge Bob.”
He has fun, but an ice cream truck is a ton of work. He has two part-time employees to help out. From May to September, he works 12-hour days, six days a week and on his “day off,” he spends three hours cleaning the truck and makes a run to restock supplies. There is a light a the end of the tunnel — October. He gets a break then until tax season starts. After April 1,5 he has three weeks to get the truck ready for the next season.
As if Emlaw, a Navy veteran, isn’t busy enough, he is also the treasurer and bar manager of the Avoca Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and has to spend two to three hours there most mornings.
He and his wife Shannon have two children, a son Jimmy, 33, and a daughter Shelbi, who at 13, is only two years older than Shannon and Jim’s grandson, Cameron, 11.