Community rallies around Royal Oak's Ray's Ice Cream, raising thousands to save it

Ray's Ice Cream on Coolidge in Royal Oak is a family business that started in 1958, the year Tom Stevens was born. 

He began working there when he was 7 years old. Stevens worked with his grandfather and his dad and uncle and now his nephew and daughter work there, too.

But COVID-19 has this ice cream business bordering on a meltdown.

"It's just been brutal - absolutely brutal because half of our business is not just serving cones out here, it's also restaurants, country clubs," he said.

All businesses that have been closed or severely curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions, like their own store - where people can still get an ice cream cone - but no longer just sit and enjoy their ice cream.

Ray's is still selling to grocery stores but it's just not enough to pay all the bills.

"You know the first thing you pay, is your employees - you take care of them first - there's some bills piling up," he said.

Water, electricity, so much stuff - Tom's not even paying himself right now.

It's been a struggle for a few years he said. There was a huge construction project and it finally wrapped up and all the traffic should have been going into Ray's - but then COVID-19 - crushed it.

So Monday night Tom finally decided to start a GoFundMe

"I had to swallow my pride a little bit to go onto GoFundMe - that was a little bit hard to do," he said. "You should be able to make it on yourself but we're in that dire straits right now."

The outpouring of support has already been amazing - with the account up to $11,000  and growing fast by noon on Tuesday. One donor - named Robert - said he worked for Ray's 40 years ago - and it was his favorite job.

Customers were stopping by, too - for their favorite flavors. Tom is humbled - surprised by how many people care about this ice cream parlor - but when you've been a fixture for more than 60 years, people want the tradition to continue.

"I guess there's a lot of love out there for us," he said.

And Tom is incredibly grateful. If you would like to help by donating: GO HERE.