ITHACA, N.Y.—Nestled in the 300 block of East Seneca Street is Rosie’s Alley, home to Rosie’s Ice Cream stand, where owner Helen Kiluk is in the process of shifting her business and implementing a new, additional focus for her operation.

Owner Helen Kiluk bought the ice cream stand from its former owner four years ago. Kiluk soon moved the stand from Syracuse to Ithaca. Now, after four seasons, Rosie’s is moving to a slightly new location — next door in the former Alley Cat Cafe space — with an expanded purpose. 

Kiluk hopes to use the increased space in the new location for community building and a hub for mental health resources.

“I’m calling it an awareness cafe,” said Kiluk. “I’m going to center it around suicide prevention. I want it to stand for something.”

Kiluk has established a system for referrals to mental health professionals and is currently partnering with two mental health professionals to provide services. She also hopes to expand the number of providers she can refer to by partnering with local interested health services.

Mental health is an especially profound topic for Kiluk after she lost a close relative to suicide. 

“I don’t think it’s going to solve someone’s problem, but if I can offer kindness, some understanding and referrals to mental health professionals — that’s what I’m hoping to get out of that space,” Kiluk said. 

In terms of the physical layout of the cafe, Kiluk plans to add graphics to the walls of the cafe to create a physical representation of the issue of mental health. She also plans to sell merchandise with branding to raise mental health awareness, she said. A portion of the money from those sales will be donated to organizations dedicated to suicide prevention, with the rest used to raise awareness around the issue of mental health, according to Kiluk.

The COVID-19 pandemic had significant ramifications on the general public’s mental health in the United States. According to the National Institute of Health, a 2021 study indicated that rates of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses have increased since the start of the pandemic, with more than half of Americans reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Kilkuk emphasized, however, that despite the emotional subject matter, patrons will still have a positive experience and take something home along with their ice cream.

“I don’t want it to be a doom and gloom cafe, that’s not what I am,” Kiluk said. “I also want to make my family proud and honor those lost. So that’s what I’m most excited about.”

The cafe is expected to be completed in five to six weeks and will potentially feature a community room that is rentable and open to the public for events and classes. Prior to purchasing her ice cream stand, Kiluk owned a diner in the city of Ithaca called Prize Diner which operated for several years until burning down in 2011.

Kiluk said it took a while to regain her footing and during that time, she studied business administration which led to her purchasing the ice cream stand.

“I was in food service for 40 years and when I went to school for business administration, they said pizza and ice cream have the highest profit margins,” Kiluk said of her thinking at the time. “I’ve done everything else so I’ll try ice cream.”

The menu is covered in classics like twisted cones and banana boats, to new creations like ice cream nachos. 

“My hard [ice cream] flavors are from Perry’s Ice Cream,” Kiluk said. “My sundaes are all from my imagination.”

Over the past few years, the stand has grown in popularity, with its social media accounts gaining attention and occasionally being featured on Perry’s Ice Cream’s site. The shop is open all week, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.

Customers Andrew Campana and Ed Von Aderkas said they’ve never been to Rosie’s before, but their experience has left them impressed.

“This is a place you pass by constantly as you go down the hill, but it’s really worth going down the hill and checking it out,” Campana said. “There’s a lot of ice cream in this town but this seems different, so I definitely think it’s worth trying things out.” 

A sentiment echoed by Von Aderkas.

“Sometimes it just pays to take a moment and stop off at these places,” Von Aderkas said.