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'Dad got his wings.' But iconic Rock Hill ice cream stand founder left sweet memories

Owner of long time Rock Hill ice cream shop loved children, socialized with customers

Philip Holmes Jr., co-owner of PW's Gourmet Ice Cream in Rock Hill, died Saturday, June 23. His co-owner son Wayne Holmes said his father loved ice cream shops because it was a traditional way for families to spend time together.
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Philip Holmes Jr., co-owner of PW's Gourmet Ice Cream in Rock Hill, died Saturday, June 23. His co-owner son Wayne Holmes said his father loved ice cream shops because it was a traditional way for families to spend time together.

For the first time in anybody's memory over the past 25 years, Rock Hill's iconic PW's Gourmet Ice Cream was closed last week during the summer.

There was a reason. Philip W. Holmes Jr. was ill. He founded PW's with the vision that he'd compete with big chains for a scoop of the ice cream market.

Holmes, 82, died Saturday, after a long illness.

Yet it is his life, and his ice cream, that is part of Rock Hill's culture.

Holmes named the store on Herlong Avenue after his two sons, Philip III and Wayne. Both sons continue to run the store.

"My father believed in giving people a great ice cream with a smile," said Wayne Holmes. "He was so proud that so many people hugged him over the years."

PW's was closed last week through the weekend so family could be together when Philip Holmes Jr. was hospitalized.

It re-opened Monday.

Customers have expressed condolences since learning of Holmes Jr.'s death, Wayne said.

Some even left flowers under the store's sign that announced: "Dad got his wings."

"Our community has been great. My dad always believed in this community," Wayne said. "He loved people."

Loyd Ardrey, owner of the Ebenezer Grill restaurant, known for its 12-foot weenie sign, stopped at PW's for a milkshake Monday after hearing of Philip's death.

"Great place, great milkshake, great people," Ardrey said.

The store is officially named PW's Gourmet Ice Cream. But its initials, PW's, have always been enough.

Patrons can get homemade ice cream, sundaes, ice cream cakes, milkshakes with an extra scoop of ice cream plunked in the middle, and concretes -- a mixture of ice cream and toppings.

Chris Miller, vice -president of OTS Broadcasting, which owns WRHI radio and other stations, proposed to his wife in 2007 using PW's ice cream. Miller put an engagement ring in a concrete mixture, his wife found it and accepted, and the rest is history.

"PW's is a place that gives you a smile every time," Miller said.

PW's started small and humble in 1993, at tiny stand on Albright Road, on the other side of Rock Hill from where it is now. Philip wanted to run his own food store after a career with Marriott hospitality, which followed eight years in the Marine Corps.

"It was a huge risk, but my father believed you had to try to succeed," Wayne said. "He had a vision. He always dreamed of his own place."

Three years later the family built the store on Herlong Avenue, near Piedmont Medical Center. It has thrived as the area around it filled in with other retail, business, and residential growth.

The store has sponsored teams and causes, and been a partner in community events for 25 years, Wayne said.

Funeral arrangements are not yet set for Philip Holmes Jr.

And PW's soon will have a new sundae on its vast menu that has yet to be named officially.

It will have vanilla ice cream, peanut butter sauce, hot fudge and Reese's Pieces candy. The candy was Philip's favorite.

The ice cream tribute is fitting, Wayne said.

"We are going to name a sundae after him," Wayne said.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald
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