Reed’s Ice Cream was a popular business that opened in Omaha in 1930, and operated into the early 1960s. Their signature bungalows were strategically spread throughout the community, and heavily anchored in several North Omaha neighborhoods.
With cones that cost a nickel and malts that cost a dime, Reed’s was affordable during the Great Depression. Eventually operating 63 outlets across Omaha, at its peak the business grossed $2.5 million annually by selling one million gallons of ice cream every year.
With their production facility on North 24th, its obvious to recognize Reed’s as a North Omaha business. But they weren’t for everyone in North O.
Founding A Cold Dynasty
J. D. Reed started manufacturing ice cream in Des Moines in 1901. His son Claud came to Omaha in 1929 when he was 18 years old. He built the first 10 bungalows himself and opened in 1930. He made the ice cream delivered it to his stands and staffed them himself sometimes.
What J. D. Reed created in Des Moines was meant to set himself apart from other ice cream salesmen: prepackaged ice cream, and that wasn’t done before him. It wasn’t popular at first in Omaha, because customers didn’t like the idea of ice cream that wasn’t handpacked. However, once they tried it they liked it – a lot. It took three years for Claud to make a profit in his market, but when he did the money started pouring in.
Reed’s bungalow-style stands were part of the formula for success. They were designed to look like dollhouses with white siding, green trim and lace curtains. Reed’s made their ice cream cones out of tubes of ice cream wrapped in parchment, each a standard size and consistency.
Most of Reed’s first bungalows were in North Omaha, and then spread throughout the city into 53 stands. The ice cream was manufactured in a factory on the northwest corner of North 24th and Wirt Streets.
Reed’s Ice Cream early bungalows included:
- Military Avenue and Decatur Street
- North 40th and Cass Streets
- North 50th and Military Avenue
- North 36th and Meredith Avenue
- North 30th and Read Streets
- North 16th and Wirt Streets
- North 24th and Browne Avenue
- North 31st and Cuming Streets
Promoting themselves as making homemade ice cream at their factory, Reed’s suggested they had four “big reasons” their ice cream was best:
- It was made in small batches with simple recipes;
- They had a large variety with “fancy flavors” to choose from;
- Theirs was a unique production process that ensured quality and sanitation, and;
- Their ice cream cost the same as “average” ice cream.
In 1933, a gallon of ice cream cost $.55, and a pint cost $.17.
Originally, they only employed women to work in the bungalows. They were advertised as being “very congenial and appreciative of your business.” Reed’s expanded rapidly in the 1930s, quickly spreading throughout North Omaha and beyond. Their business model included shuttering their stores and bungalows through the winter, closing in October and re-opening in April. The plant on North 24th Street stayed open throughout the year though.
Clean conditions and fighting food poisoning was important to Reed’s. An early advertisement proudly proclaimed,
“…Reed’s homemade ice cream carries a double sanitation protection for your health’s sake. Every ounce of Reed’s homemade ice cream and sherbets from cones to pints to quarts is automatically packaged and sealed in air-tight containers by modern machinery as it is made. Impurities cannot enter Reed’s homemade ice cream.”
By 1933, Reed’s advertised a new “commercial grade” ice cream with fewer fresh ingredients but priced more in line with local prices and quality. That same year, prices for quarts at the North 24th Street plant ran cheaper than those at the neighborhood bungalows, which surely drew traffic to their plant.
That same year, they started advertising that they were hiring people to help fight the Great Depression, just as the President had ordered.
They continued to grow even through the Depression and World War II. By 1937, the company was advertising their 43 bungalows – although I can’t find a list of all the locations.
Their advertisements were a large part of their successes. Coming off as part-scientific and part populist, they appealed to indulgence with logic. Routine servings of ice cream were supposedly healthy, while all their processes were air-tight and sanitized for your health. All their ads featured wholesome Americana, including the bungalow workers and workers at the Reed’s ice cream plant. They had impartial laboratory tests and independents scientists, comparison trials and sponsored contests. Reed’s became ubiquitous throughout Omaha.
Opening the Super Shops
By 1940, there were 53 bungalows, with more than half of them open in North Omaha. The Reed’s Ice Cream plant on North 24th Street was packed with workers and constantly busy, too.
Reed’s developed a new store model in the early 1940s. While Omaha’s soldiers were off fighting World War II, their families at home were lining up for the Reed’s Super Shops. The Super Shops were full-service stores that offered complete desserts, including sundaes, malts and splits, as well as packed quarts and other take-home treats. Some of these were unavailable in the bungalows, and going to the Super Shops was a treat.
In 1945, there were eleven North Omaha locations for the Reed’s Super Shops. They included:
- 841 North Saddle Creek Road
- 49th and Dodge Streets
- 1819 Military Avenue
- 2202 North 16th Street
- 509 North 18th Street
- 411 North 30th Street
- 3106 North 24th Street
- 3122 Cuming Street
- 7108 North 30th Street
- 3610 North 30th Street
- 3224 California Street
During the same decade, Reed’s became crass in their advertising by writing a daily comic just for kids. Called “The Reedette’s”, the comic featured two kids who constantly craved ice cream, and weren’t satiated until they had a large Reed’s cone in hand. Some adventures took them running through backyards packed with laundry drying in the wind, while others featured them climbing and playing and clamoring for satisfaction.
Locations in 1940
After 1935, Claud Reed started franchising his bungalows. Individual owners had stands built on their properties and were responsible for maintaining the building. In 1940, Reed’s Ice Cream bungalows included the following locations, along with their owners.
- 2202 North 16th Street (Ruth Maroney)
- 3103 North 16th Street (Frances Crandell)
- 1527 1/2 North 20th Street (Leona Skaggs)
- 409 North 24th Street (Julia Lawless)
- 5007 North 24th Street (Vienna Hiserodt)
- 411 North 30th Street (Ada S. Clary)
- 3810 North 30th Street (Violet McCreary)
- 4605 North 30th Street (Adeline Meister)
- 7108 North 30th Street (Ethel Swanson)
- North 36th and Meredith Avenue
- North 40th and Cass Streets
- 3122 Cuming Street (Viola Grady)
- 4135 Florence Boulevard (Creta Sabine)
- 3224 California Street (Martha Coder)
- 2602 Ames Avenue (Dollie Rehder)
- 4116 Ames Avenue (Jean Mallory)
- 4334 Bedford Avenue (Milred Hogan)
- 3625 Hamilton Street (Rose Edman)
- 1819 Military Avenue (Jeanette Burkman)
- 4963 Military Avenue (Lois Crossfield)
- 6069 Military Avenue (Neva Moline)
- 21 East Locust Street (Mabel Ahlbeck)
- 1520 Carter Lake Boulevard (Amelia Geizfred)
By the early 1950s, Reed’s pivoted again. Their advertisements focused on pleasing families and conformity, and Reed’s focused on their popularity and pleasure. By 1950 the bungalows were largely gone, and Reed’s “Shoppes” were new phase. Ice cream was sold in half-gallon boxes, with uniform flavors and consistency at every turn. In August 1956, their featured flavors were black walnut, cherry nut, strawberry and vanilla. Their boxes were “specially made to fit your refrigerator,” and their homey local feeling was disappearing…
At the Reed’s Shoppes, ice cream was also sold as Clown sundaes, banana splits and other delectables that weren’t available in the bungalows or at stores. The chain continued expanding, with new locations further west in North Omaha, and more in other parts of the city, too.
In 1955, Reed’s advertised 11 flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, black walnut, butter brickle, double chocolate almond, butter scotch cluster, peppermint stick, dutch apple, cherry nut and pumpkin. At their peak, Claud Reed estimated the company sold 40% of all ice cream in Omaha from one of Reed’s 63 outlets.
Racism at Reed’s
Reed’s Ice Cream wasn’t for everyone.
Claud Reed and his Reed’s Ice Cream business practiced overt racism in their business. From the day he opened his first stand in 1930, Reed’s segregationist perspective was that African Americans should be allowed to buy the ice cream, but not work for the business. For more than 20 years this was his regular practice.
The segregation was fought by the DePorres Club and The Omaha Star in 1953. With boycotting, regular protests and picketing throughout that year, Reed’s stopped its racist hiring practices and hired one African American in order to stop the protests.
By 1959, Reed’s business was getting squished. Supermarkets were cutting into their business by offering one-stop shopping for all foods, and Reed’s knew they either had to get into the wholesale ice cream business or start selling sandwiches as well as ice cream. Reed’s wasn’t built to last though, and in the early 1960s all their ice cream melted, so to speak.
The business closed that year.
Another company bought their plant at 3106 North 24th Street, and the Reed’s Ice Cream name was gone from Omaha within a year.
DO YOU KNOW MORE NORTH OMAHA LOCATIONS!?! Share them in the comments section below!
You Might Like…
- A History of Restaurants, Diners and Food Businesses in North Omaha
- A Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement in Omaha
- A History of North 24th Street
- “I Wish I Could Have Gone to Reed’s Ice Cream Shop” – MyOmahaObsession.com