(We All Scream for) an interview with Jim Ingram

Nov 2 2015
Published by under Easthampton


It seems like everyone in the valley knows where to get the best ice cream. A mainstay in the city of Easthampton, Jim Ingram’s Mount Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream is a step into yesteryear with its tin ceilings and its icecream parlor style seating with updated flavors and walls filled with art by local creative talent. Jim, a photographer and entrepeneur, is a creative and community force that has embraced the city of Easthampton since his arrival in 2003. ECA+ spoke with Jim about his store, his photography and his story.

photography by Jim Ingram

ECA+: Why did you open a business in Easthampton?
JI: Synchronicity.
I was actually looking for a location in the Boston area. A few months into that fruitless search, every town seemed to already have a good ice cream shop or was cost-prohibitive, I just happened to come out to Western Massachusetts to visit a friend. She owned a B&B in Worthington and knew Carl of now retired Sunrise Bakery. She also knew he had started a little candy store in the same building, was having a tough go of it, and was quietly shopping it around. She called him that night to set up a tour for me. I rerouted my trip home via Cottage Street the next day. The place had me at twenty foot high tin ceilings and hardwood floors. I sometimes wonder if I hadn’t come out for that visit where I’d be and what I might be doing.

I stick by the synchronicity thing since I hadn’t talked to my B&B friend in at least six years before that visit, and I haven’t seen her since. I wish I could say I had more entrepreneurial foresight about downtown Easthampton’s renaissance when I decided to set up shop here. Suffice to say, I had a good feeling about the town then, despite the many empty or struggling storefronts. My intuition seems to have paid off, and here I am nearly a decade later, still growing right along with it.

ECA+: What makes Mt Tom’s a success?
JI: At the risk of sounding a bit esoteric, I believe it’s because it makes people happy.

Someone once told me, you’re not selling ice cream, you’re selling memories. Part of what makes going to an ice cream shop or candy store fun is it reminds you of those carefree days when you were a kid, when Mom would bring you there after a good report card or on the way home from the beach with your family. An ice cream parlor is meant to be a happy place, and I work hard at making the experience of coming to Mt. Tom’s as positive as possible. That not only includes offering the best ice cream I can possibly make in an ever-changing array of interesting flavors but doing it in a way that ‘facilitates happy’. For my shop, that means things like hiring friendly servers, maintaining an old-fashioned candy store/ice cream parlor that’s clean and orderly, and offering prices that are fair. Just to name a few.

Let’s face it, people have many choices when it comes to ice cream and sweets. Like most ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses in the age of the internet and the superstore, small biz survival depends on being able to offer an ‘experience’ that makes it worthwhile to come to your shop.

ECA+: How long have you been doing photography?
JI: I used to swipe my parents’ instamatic when I was a kid and run off with it to take pictures of the cat. Suffice to say, I’ve been aiming a camera at stuff for about as long as I can remember.

ECA+: What is your photographic process?
JI: Photography is the art of capturing light. It has its technical aspects – aperture, depth of field, over-exposure, under-exposure, etc. All these contribute to the quality of an image and can’t be ignored, but that’s not enough to explain the difference between a snapshot and a great image.

For me, the essence of photography is that it forces you to be present in the moment. Instead of mindlessly stomping over a patch of mist-covered clovers, your eyes and lens are getting right up close, taking in the scene from every angle. In twenty minutes, the scene may be completely different. No more dew. Different shades of green from the sun slightly higher in the sky. Being able to capture and share a beautiful moment is what brings the most satisfaction to me. Creating a great image involves being in the right place at the right time, and like most forms of luck in life, the more you’re out there, the greater your odds of success. And thanks to the magic of the digital photography and the invention of the delete button, you can take as many shots as you want, because you never know which one will capture that moment in a way that truly captivates.

My camera of choice is a Canon Digital Rebel, but I’ve gotten plenty of keepers with my trusty point-and-shoot digital Canon Elph. When I’m out taking photos deliberately, it’s my DSLR, but as I mentioned, that right place, right time moment can come at any time, so for me it’s about always being prepared and on the lookout for that next great shot.

ECA+:How has ECA+ impacted your business?
JI: Art Walk and Bear Fest 2009 have, without a doubt, had the biggest impact on my business. A  has been most helpful in the off-season. It’s been a great way to get people to come to the shop on a cold night when they might otherwise not be so inclined. Mt. Tom’s does have an espresso bar and an array of gourmet chocolates for those who think ice cream is just for summer, and those off-season Art Walks have helped to remind people of this. As for Bear Fest, it nearly single-handedly rescued me from a cold rainy summer. Where most of my ice cream shop owner friends suffered through a very down season, I did quite well, thanks to the many families who came to Easthampton to enjoy strolling through town to discover the bears. The summer-long event hit my demographic perfectly, and I look forward to the next one!

ECA+: Describe how ECA+ has impacted your photography?
JI: The biggest impact ECA+ has had on my photography has been with the Art Walk. I’ve shown my work on six different occasions and am preparing for another next month. I am always on the lookout for the next great image, but as many artists and runners will agree, it’s the planned shows and events that do the most to encourage you to get out there and do what you do. I’ve enjoyed networking with other photographers and artists through ECA+, and learned a lot from other members, so thanks for all you do to keep the arts community alive, communicating, and prospering. Keep up the great work!

Click here to read Jim’s Ice Cream diaries and see more of his photography.

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