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There are a few things in Chicago that mark the end of winter and the arrival of our cherished warmer weather. Robins chirp outside windows, flowers start to bloom, and come May 1, lines form on Taylor Street as customers wait for invigorating Italian ice from Mario’s Italian Lemonade.
The business started in 1954, when Mario “Skip” DiPaolo was six years old. Skip was a rowdy child, so his father, also Mario, got him a hand-cranked lemonade machine to channel his tremendous energy. Skip began churning and selling lemonade for two cents in front of the family’s home in Little Italy on Chicago’s Near West Side, and soon he, his father, his sister Donna, and mother Dorothy were running a popular business.
Skip is now 75 years old, and runs the stand with his children and wife, Maria—who herself started working there as a thirteen year-old. Over the decades, Mario’s has become a community gathering place, serving as a celebratory stop after graduations and sports wins, or just as an annual family tradition.
These photos are from the first week of Mario’s Italian Lemonade’s 69th season.
Mario “Skip” DiPaolo, now 75 years old, still lives next door to his Italian ice stand, and watches the action from his stoop.
He and his wife, Maria, have worked the business for decades.
Once Mario’s opens for the season in May, the line often stretches down the block.
Angela McLemore has been coming during Mario’s first week for as long as she can remember. Her late brother Nelson and his wife Ollie always came on opening day.
Dontrey Britt-Hart and her son Matthew usually go to Mario’s during its opening week with Matthew’s two older brothers. They felt a little bad for indulging without them.
Mario’s is a popular spot for sports teams celebrating a win, like the Sheridan McGuane Baseball League’s White Sox. From left, Dominic Macias, Vinny Macias, Madison Macias, Allen Vannevar, and Graham Petersen.
Students from the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago such as Akhil Nidadavolu might visit after graduation.
Or a UIC student like Hana Sayeed might simply stop by for a refreshing dessert.
Student-age young people such as 18 year-old Ephraim Balogun staff the stand.
21 year-old Noelle Oh became a manager this year, after two previous years working at Mario’s.
Mario’s has 30 rotating flavors, with 21 offered at any given time.
Among the flavors are blue raspberry and lychee, the choices of Alissa Latham and Joanna Williams, who was having her first ice.
Some people, like Mariam Nur, document their ice with a photo after waiting in line.
Others tuck in right away, as Liam Kellen did while his sister Julie fed the family dog, Jasper, who got his own ice.
Mario’s remains a family business, with Skip and Maria’s children Mario and Davina helping run it.
It’s a popular destination for families in the neighborhood, like Katie DiCianni and her son Nico, who grabbed an ice on their way to the park right when the stand opened.
Maurice Chears used to come to the stand as a teenager in the nineties, and now enjoys visiting with his daughter Lashunda.
Mina Lopez has often enjoyed Mario’s, but brought Carlos Casique for his first ice.
Members of the Chicago Fire Department stopped by for an ice on a recent evening.
Crowds enjoy Mario’s into the night: it’s open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm over the summer, until the weather once again cools and Chicagoans head into winter, waiting and hoping for the warm weather to return, and with it, a refreshing taste of Italian ice.