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In Arkansas, July 4 without local ice cream won't be the same

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - The bad news couldn't have come at a worse time.

Yarnell's Ice Cream of Searcy, Arkansas -- a staple at Fourth of July celebrations across the state -- announced shortly before the holiday weekend it was shutting down operations immediately.

The independent ice cream company cited financial reasons for the closure, and 200 people will lose their jobs.

For people in Arkansas, the ice cream is an institution. University of Arkansas Razorbacks fans love "Woo Pig Chewy," a brownie-flavored ice cream. A purple vanilla, created for Purple Cow restaurants in Arkansas, is a popular novelty.

"It is most certainly a part of the Arkansas culture," said Guy Lancaster, editor of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. "Having a local ice cream company in this day and age is a bit of novelty and a lot of people took a bit of pride in that fact."

On Friday, fans were scooping up the remaining Yarnell flavors in grocery stores. They posted pictures of their ice cream stash on social media sites with "RIP Yarnell's" tags.

Ray Yarnell bought a dairy business in 1932 amid the Depression and turned it into a thriving business in Searcy, northeast of Little Rock. Arkansas was once home to several ice cream companies, and Yarnell's remained in the family, and in Searcy, until its closure.

By 1997, Yarnell's was the last Arkansas-based ice cream company, according to the company's website.

TWINNED WITH TOWN

Buzz Lane, president of the Searcy Chamber of Commerce, said the Yarnell name had been synonymous with the town for four generations, with one company president even serving as mayor.

The company sold its products, among them ice cream sandwiches and frozen yogurt, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

This summer, consumers buzzed about Yarnell's new Lemon Ice Box Pie flavor. In the fall, the company had planned to unveil a "Sticky Bun" flavored ice cream.

Purple Cow served only Yarnell's ice cream in its three Arkansas restaurants. The restaurant also has branches in Texas, where Blue Bell makes its special purple ice cream.

Todd Gold, president of Purple Cow and co-owner, told Reuters that he now will serve Blue Bell to his customers.

The Yarnell's loss runs deep and won't soon be forgotten, Lancaster said.

"In this day and age, when it is becoming harder to identify local products, Yarnell's was one that everyone knew," he said. "Our grandparents and our great-grandparents knew that brand, and Yarnell's had a continuity that will be missed."

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan)

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