By Brandi Makuski
Cole Racine had just taken the day’s batch of brownies from the oven at about 7 a.m. on Friday. He hears it’s often customers’ favorite part of the day—enjoying the scent of freshly-baked goodies while waiting in line.
The 41st season of the popular soft-serve stand began as it always does on the first Friday in March—although this year, there were no campers sleeping overnight to snag their spot in line.
But that didn’t stop one diehard fan from showing up at about 5:30 a.m. on March 5.
“I come every year—it’s a tradition,” said Andrea Curley, a 37-year-old resident of the surrounding neighborhood.
Curley said she’s become familiar with other first-day fans over the years. On Friday, she was the first in line for the season, but it was a few hours before anyone else arrived. She remembers previous years where the parking lot was a sea of tents, ice shanties, and grills, beginning the night before Belts’ opened for its season.
“Maybe people just don’t think this is a thing anymore,” she said.
Racine said he’s seen the number of opening day campers ebb and flow over the years, but he’s got no doubt it going to be a busy season.
“Before the Act 10 stuff went down, we always had a WEAC teachers conference the first Friday in March, and that’s when it climaxed, we had over 100 kids,” he said. “Over the years I think it’s kind of diminished a bit. And the fact that I had a contractor here until 3 or 4 yesterday afternoon may have dissuaded people a bit this year.”
Belts’ fell victim to a vehicle collision last December 18, when a motorist took out Racine’s bathroom, then sideswiped a neighboring home before crashing into a resident’s garage. The motorist had been experiencing a medical emergency during the crash, police said.
It was the second car-v-Belts’ collision. Racine was sitting in driver’s ed class at SPASH when the first crash occurred in 1997 when an intoxicated motorist drove through the building. To commemorate the incident, Belts’ introduced t-shirts with the tongue-in-cheek “Belts’ Drive Thru” for first-day fans when it opened for its 1998 season.
In like manner, Belts’ offered the first 40 customers in line on Friday “Crash 2.0” t-shirts.
Racine said with unseasonably warm weather predicted for the next several days, he expects that he and his 17 employees will have their hands full.
“Normally, people have cabin fever this time of year, but COVID amplified it a bit,” he said.
Belts’, 2140 Division St., is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.