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Tussling over the sweet life

In Belmont, ice cream drivers vie for prime locations

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By Calvin Hennick
Globe Correspondent / August 31, 2010

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BELMONT — Bitter infighting. Accusations of collusion. Complaints to the authorities.

All for the right to sell FrozFruits, Two-Ball Screwballs, and other icy delicacies to the children of Belmont.

The town has turned into a battleground of sorts in the world of ice cream, with seven trucks vying for the right to serve in the most coveted spots, near the Underwood Pool and the Beaver Brook Reservation spray park.

Three drivers have complained to the town recently that their competitors are dominating the choice spots, in violation of a new rule passed in May that limits ice cream truck drivers to no more than 20 minutes in one spot.

What’s more, the drivers say that one of their rivals has been coordinating with other drivers, holding on to a prime location until one of his alleged coconspirators was ready to take it over.

“They come; they just hog the spot,’’ said Mohannad Tarshahani, who goes by Mike, the name that graces his distinctive green ice cream truck.

It used to be that the ice cream hawkers of Belmont lived harmoniously, said Stefan Russakow, Belmont’s health director.

“They would sell their wares, and everyone was happy,’’ Russakow said. “As the economy changed, vying for the better spots became a little bit more intense, if you will.’’

The new rules were implemented after drivers complained about each other last summer, Russakow said.

In addition to a written complaint, his department has recently fielded a couple of verbal complaints from drivers against each other, complaints from school officials that the trucks were targeting children on their way home from school, and an anonymous citizen’s complaint that someone driving the ABC ice cream truck sold treats with his shirt off.

Zayed Shuhibar, who usually drives the ABC truck owned by his father, said he has never sold ice cream topless, and Russakow said it would not violate health regulations if he did.

Shuhibar has been singled out by Tarshahani, who accuses his rival of flagrantly violating the 20-minute rule.

“ABC, you see him, no matter what, he tells you he just got there,’’ Tarshahani said.

“You end up losing an hour, an hour and a half, just cruising around.’’

Shuhibar, for his part, says that he’s had the same problem with Tarshahani and has called the police to lodge a complaint about him.

What the two competitors agree on is that the downturn in the economy has inflamed tensions.

“Before, you wouldn’t have this many ice cream trucks in one spot, because there was work, there was money,’’ Tarshahani said.

“For you to go home with $100, $120, you have to make $300 in sales,’’ he said. “With this economy, we’re not making that $300 anymore.’’

“The prices on wholesale go up, and people can’t afford it,’’ said Shuhibar.

“One item used to be two dollars,’’ he said. “People bought it without complaining. Now it’s three dollars, and people start complaining.’’

On a recent sunny afternoon, the spot of choice at the Beaver Brook Reservation sat vacant at about 1:30 p.m. But five minutes later, Abdalla Shehaiber rolled up in his King’s ice cream truck and started playing the melody that every child recognizes.

Soon, Shehaiber had a line of children at his truck, all of them eager to turn their mouths the colors of the rainbow.

Despite that rush, said Shehaiber said, he is having trouble selling enough to earn a living.

“This year, no good,’’ Shehaiber said. “People don’t buy.’’

Still, Shehaiber insisted, he is not tempted to violate the rules and stick around a little while longer.

“No problem,’’ he said. “Twenty minutes here, twenty minutes at the pool. Twenty minutes, I go.’’

Globe correspondent Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com.

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