For many of us who grew up in Scottsbluff, Platte Valley Creamery holds a lot of great memories. Malts, shakes, cones ice cream and candy.
The store opened in 1932 and has only changed hands four times. But the face that has been behind that counter for as long as most of us can remember has been Ron Smith.
“This place came up for sale and I thought it would be kind of nice being a local guy to have a business in town and offer milk in glass bottles,” Smith said. “The guy that owned the place kept bugging me to buy it.”
“I bought it in 1980,” he said. “Coming up on 37 years now.”
Smith had a lot of experience before he purchased Platte Valley Creamery and while some of the recipes came with the business, he brought a few recipes, ideas and plenty of knowledge with him.
“I worked for Fairmont Foods when they use to have a plant just off the street on Broadway,” Smith said. “I was working for Whitmore’s Creamery in Mitchell. I spent 18 years of my life at Whitmore’s.
At Fairmont Foods, he knew that he wanted his own route.
“I kept asking my boss every time I came in to get out on a route,” said Smith. “I wanted to be a route man. You see they made more money. I didn’t tell him that, but I’m sure he probably knew that.”
But every time Smith would ask, he would get another reason why they wouldn’t give him a route.
“It took a few years for them to get that worked into their heads,” said Smith, before he was offered a route.
Smith took his route and ran with it.
“I was on the west edge of Scottsbluff and at that time, it was still growing,” said Smith. “They were building a lot of houses. I got all the houses I could get before the competition could get to them. Then, when they quit building, I started hitting up the competition’s stores.”
Smith continued to build his route and extend his customer base. Then, he got some news he wasn’t expecting.
“The maintenance man was telling us that they(Fairmont Foods) are going to build a new processing plant in Scottsbluff up by the airport,” said Smith. “Then, we started to hear that it’s not going to be a processing plant, but a distribution center. I found out that’s why I got the route. They didn’t want to let me go and they knew I wouldn’t transfer out, because I had kids in junior high and high school. So they gave me a route in Scottsbluff getting ready for the distribution center.”
It was a good thing, too. Shortly after, they closed the plant down and moved all of the equipment out.
“Next thing, you know, they’re not here anymore.”
After they closed the processing plant down, Smith stayed on his route with Fairmont for a while.
Then out of nowhere, Smith was approached by another company who asked him if he would like to be a distributor for their company.
“I said, 'Yeah I’ll give it a shot.' So, I got myself a truck and started delivering milk, but Fairmont wasn’t too happy about that,” said Smith. “They started telling some of my customers that I was no good and not dependable and that I’d never make it.”
As Fairmont was getting rid of some of their routes, Smith would pick those up too.
“I had two boys in school, I bought three little vans, and we delivered milk in the morning before school and then I took care of the retail in Scottsbluff,” said Smith. “I had some pretty good customers. I had the Scottsbluff school system and the Mitchell school system.”
Smith continued until the company he was distributing for closed. He would continue to be the distributor for other companies as they came and went. Companies like Meadow Gold, Bluffs Dairy and Kilmer’s.
In 1980, he took over the Platte Valley Creamery on East Overland.
Smith has seen East Overland change quite a bit over the last few decades.
“When we first started here, there was a lot more action than there is now,” he said.
The scenery has changed and the economy has changed, but the people still come to get some good old-fashioned ice cream. Ice cream that has become famous in the valley.
People from all over the country stop in to treat themselves to both the ice cream and a walk down memory lane. Smith said he has people stop in from California that remember the place. Some people even plan a stop through here on their vacations.
“I had one guy come in a couple of years ago,” said Smith. “He sat back in the corner for the longest time. Finally he got up, ready to leave and he said, ‘This place sure brings back a lot of memories. I use to go to school down here at Roosevelt, and you see those steps there, I helped wear those down.’”
Smith still uses the old cash register. He said that he’s upgraded before, but they breakdown too easily.
Smith says he’s going to keep taking it day by day. He’ll keep providing a quality local product and lots of memories to the people in the community.