I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for I Scream
In the middle of June, a run in with the Headless Horseman seems unlikely. Unlikely, but not impossible at I Scream Sundae in Ripley, W.Va. where everyday is Halloween. The exterior of the building is almost unassuming with a few touches of scare here and there, but the real magic happens once the doors open.
On the inside, bistro lights shine upon a decor style best described as “friendly horror” with a life-sized Jack Skellington standing guard outside the women’s restroom and an eye-level vintage Pennywise looming in the black light lit men’s restroom. The Creature from the Black Lagoon gazes down in a frighteningly friendly way directly across from the wall of Creations. Horror fans will be delighted to see signed photos from their favorite horror films as well. Charessa Wilkinson, owner of I Scream Sundae, loves Halloween – and she built her business around that.
“Everything I’ve ever done, I know nothing about. From ice cream to real estate to coffee – I’m just a massive risk taker,” she said. “Three years ago we did a haunted house called The Gogo Scare Show and it was 24 rooms. I fell in love with the show and working with the teenagers. I wanted to create employment and so we put the haunted house with ice cream and made I Scream Sundae.”
The Scream isn’t just a local thing; it’s more like a destination.
For Charessa, creating jobs for local teenagers was one of the most intriguing reasons for opening her own business. She wanted to employ teens and young adults who had an alternative look and struggled to find employment elsewhere. Additionally, she employs her step-son, Josh, as one of the newest Screamers behind the counter. She jokingly added that he’s become one of the best decorators even though the girls are typically better at the job.
“I’m kind of slow and meticulous, but if we don’t have a lot of customers, I can be really good at it,” Josh said.
While Wilkinson had the heart behind opening an ice cream shop, she’ll be the first to admit that she didn’t have the research or the plan. She hadn’t even made the first Creation before deciding to open the business, but she hoped for the best and opened her door with five different Creations. From there, the menu has grown to house over 30 Creations, B-Movie Creations, Bloody Sundays, Screams by the scoop, Slashed Throats, and Frankenweenies. During the holidays, she likes to rotate out different themed Creations like The Nightmare Before Christmas in December and My Bloody Valentine in February.
“Ripley is all about small business, and about bringing people into the town, so it’s been really good. However, The Scream isn’t just a local thing; it’s more like a destination. People are driving hours to see us. Last week we had North Carolina that came here just for us,” she said. “ We get a lot of teenage birthdays. One drove here from New Jersey – I think they said it was 13 hours, but it was her dream to come here. So, we take it very seriously and I’m very honored to be able to do this kind of stuff and make sure it’s a good experience for them.”
I went out with our Corolla, my tattoos, tee shirt and jeans, and then I found lots of respect for being myself.
Being a small business owner is hard work, but Wilkinson says The Scream is just what she does for fun even being a fully thriving business in its fifth year. According to her, her real gig is being one half of the Sold Sisters realty team which sits adjacent to I Scream Sundae.
“We’ve been number one in Jackson County since we opened and I think we’re fifth within the Ohio Valley MLS with around 20 agents. Just like ice cream, I knew nothing about it and it took my sister a year and a half to talk me into it because I felt like a used car salesman. I wasn’t going to dress up so I was like ‘I’ll just change it.’ So, I went out with our Corolla, my tattoos, tee shirt and jeans, and then I found lots of respect for being myself,” she said.
Wilkinson’s success in Jackson County did not surprise her because of how the community rallies around small businesses. She’s been a fixture in the community for 17 years and love the people and the general atmosphere that comes with the territory. After the reception of her other two businesses, she expanded once again to open, “Hallowbeans,” an eight-month-old horror themed coffee shop located above I Scream Sundae.
“It’s decorated similarly, but I tell people it’s more of an adult-themed haunted house because there are things like heads on stakes.Then, there’s a whole room of clowns because I discovered I can’t really have clowns down here (I Scream) because some people are really terrified,” Wilkinson said.
I think entrepreneurship is in my blood. My great grandfather started the Tower Mountain bus line in Cross Lanes many, many years ago and my parents are entrepreneurs so it’s just something I enjoy.
Their coffees, teas, and food items in Hallowbeans follow in the vein of horror as well featuring drinks like King Kong – a dark mocha with banana and the TikTok drink featuring red bull which Wilkinson describes as being a virgin trash can.
“One of the things that really helped us take off was the bagels that we have. We have in-house cream cheeses too, but these bagels are rainbow colored and huge. They’re just so good,” she said.
However, the brightly colored bagels and horrifying screams aren’t the only reason that people keep showing up in droves to The Scream and Hallowbeans. Wilkinson’s background in marketing and communication along with her creative tendencies have really helped her create a brand that people instantly recognize. She created the logos for her businesses and is the artistic vision behind the creations as well which includes expanding into new ways to serve – like The Hive – six flavors in one egg carton.
“I think entrepreneurship is in my blood. My great grandfather started the Tower Mountain bus line in Cross Lanes many, many years ago and my parents are entrepreneurs so it’s just something I enjoy. It’s also a chance to be very creative and very artistic and this is my outlet to be able to do that,” Wilkinson said.
I also really like Buffy the Vampire Slayer because we take the hearts and put toothpick daggers in them.
The creativity and the people are what keeps Wilkinson showing up each day. Fans of The Scream come from all over the United States and often message her with ideas or send small, horror-themed gifts to help decorate the space – like a signed photo from Michael Myers. These pieces highlight the ice cream creations that parade out from the kitchen – Smooshed Smurf, Butterbeer, Scooby Snacks, E.T., and more.
“My favorite one is the Killer Clown from Outer Space. That’s one of the original ones that has the most stuff and it pays very close attention to its source material. And then, I also really like Buffy the Vampire Slayer because we take the hearts and put toothpick daggers in them,” Wilkinson said.
The atmosphere of The Scream is promoted by The Screamers who get to have fun while at work interacting with customers and decorating the Creations.
“I really like working here just because it’s a really chill environment. Everyone is really fun to work with and I get along with them really well. It’s a creative environment and I love decorating the Creations,” Screamer Shelby Gregor said.
Channeling her best Professor Trelawney, looking into the future, Wilkinson isn’t sure exactly what she wants to do, but she hopes to keep expanding and offering new employment in the Jackson County area.