Cotton candy ice cream in a waffle cone at Gifford’s Ice Cream. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUBURN, Maine — Gifford’s Ice Cream has closed its Auburn family-owned stand early this season, citing staffing shortages that make it difficult to provide a quality experience for customers.

The Auburn location stopped serving customers Sunday evening. Typically the company’s five stands in Auburn, Bangor, Farmington, Skowhegan and Waterville operate from March to early to mid-October, but this year the Auburn location opened on April 7.

Nationwide and across Maine, employers have struggled to adequately staff their businesses, and Gifford’s is just one example. Workforce participation remains below pre-pandemic levels, with 3.4 million fewer Americans working today compared with February 2020, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s latest data published Aug. 5.

“At Gifford’s, we care greatly about the customer experience we provide at our family-owned stands, and right now, without adequate staffing, that experience doesn’t meet our standards in Auburn,” CEO Lindsay Skilling said Monday. “This has led us to make the difficult decision to close early.”

The Auburn store employed 10 people, many of whom are college students returning to school soon.

Gifford’s, which has its manufacturing facility based in Skowhegan and has been making and selling ice cream for more than 40 years, will not close other stands before the summer season ends, Skilling said. Hours have remained normal at the other four locations, she said.

The company will adjust when school is back in session, which it does every summer.

Running a stand requires a team, including high school and college students, managers, scoopers and others, said Skilling, a fifth-generation ice cream maker.

“While we work to staff accordingly through the back to school transition, which is an annual challenge, that is only possible when we have the other team members as well,” she said. “It’s not just about hiring. It’s about hiring the right team that can provide a positive customer experience, and we just couldn’t get there.”

The longtime chain of ice cream stands is exploring solutions and plans to host a series of pop-ups using its new mobile Scoop Shack at locations in the Auburn area, Skilling said.

Gifford’s unveiled the Scoop Shack, a 20-foot trailer serving a variety of ice cream flavors, at the Maine Folk Festival in Brunswick on July 15-17. The company will announce dates and locations for pop-ups on social media.