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Selma's in Afton scoops out history with its re-opening

Paul and Becky Nickerson, of Houlton, Wis., purchased Selma's Ice Cream Parlour for $155,000. Bulletin photo by Amber Kispert-Smith

Walking into the re-opened Selma's Ice Cream Parlour is like walking back in time.

Becky and Paul Nickerson, of Houlton, Wis., opened Selma's on Friday after three years of the ice cream shop sitting vacant, but the restaurant has hardly aged a day.

"We wanted it to look like the oldest ice cream parlor in Minnesota," Becky said. "We wanted to go back to what people remembered.

"It's funny, we did do a lot of work, but people say it looks just like it used to -- which is a compliment."

Bringing back the legacy

Selma's has been a staple in Afton since the 1930s when Selma and Eddie Holberg opened its doors for business.

The business has transferred hands over the years after the Holbergs sold the restaurant in the 1950s.

Laine McGee bought the restaurant in 1980 and owned it until 2007 when she sold it to local businessman Joe Farrington. That same year the business was sold to Chet Kurtz who added panini sandwiches to the space.

Selma's went into foreclosure after Kurtz filed for bankruptcy. It was bought by CorTrust Bank at a sheriff's sale for $746,612.

The Nickersons paid $155,000 for the property; the asking price was $299,000.

When Becky and Paul Nickerson first stepped into Selma's, they weren't entirely prepared for what awaited them.

"There was several decades of stuff in there," Becky said. "It was a matter of going through that and finding out what he had -- we got a sense of what we wanted to have for Selma's."

Among the hidden treasures the Nickersons found was the original cedar paneling for the counters and the original Selma's sign.

Next, the Nickersons went to work restoring everything in the restaurant and figuring out what they wanted it to look like.

Becky and Paul Nickerson said their vision for Selma's has always been to bring it back to what it has always been -- the oldest ice cream parlor in Minnesota.

"We wanted to be that unique experience, instead of just another trip to a restaurant," Becky said. "We knew we wanted to keep that feel."

Becky and Paul Nickerson turned to the Afton Historical Society to find pictures of what Selma's once looked like.

"We tried to preserve what we saw in the pictures," Paul said. "We wanted to have that look."

The Nickersons also turned to those who know Selma's best -- the community.

"We found some things that were really nostalgic and then just built on those," Becky said.

Once the Nickerson had the basics of the restaurant in order, it was time for the important part -- the ice cream.

The Nickersons are using Brown Ice Cream, Selma's original vendor out of Minneapolis, and Cedar Crest Ice Cream out of Wisconsin.

"We went through a very thorough taste test," Paul said.

On any given day, Becky said they intend to have a total of 30 flavors on hand, and new flavors will be swapped in.

"We had to have Zanzibar chocolate though," Becky said. "We knew that was a cornerstone."

Other flavors that Selma's will carry include: butter pecan, sea salt caramel nut, monster cookie, banana cream pie, white chocolate raspberry truffle, root beer twist and "Superman," which is a combination of strawberry, lemon and blue raspberry.

Becky said she is hoping to start offering a variation of wine flights called a "Sweet Fleet," where customers will be able to try three or four ice cream flavors in mini cones.

"There's so many flavors in there to try," Paul said. "Here's a good way to broaden your flavors."

In addition to the ice cream, Selma's will also sell coffee and an assortment of nostalgic candy.

Becky said they are hoping to carry between 60 and 80 varieties of candy including taffy, candy necklaces, candy buttons, Zots, pop bottles, coca cola gummies, Cow Tails, licorice ropes, Pop Rocks and lollipops.

Now that Selma's has re-opened its doors, the Nickersons said they are excited about its future.

"We're going to start simple much to the input from locals," Paul said. "There's a lot of opportunity moving forward."

Jim Kaempfer, owner of Afton Leather, said he is excited to see Selma's back open.

"It has been a landmark and business anchor in the past and it will be that way again in the near future," he said.

Kaempfer said he believes Selma's reopening will have a positive impact on the Afton business community.

"As people come to enjoy the ice cream and atmosphere of Selma's they will see the other stores in Afton and that means additional customers for the entire business community," he said. "Selma's will not only be a lot of fun to have around, it will be good for everyone."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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