EDITORIAL: Against spirit of small town business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2021

In the week since Ironton Shake Shoppe owners Robby Brown and Maddie Cogan shared with The Tribune the news that their restaurant is being sued by the Shake Shoppe of Gallipolis, they have seen the community in Lawrence County and beyond rally to support them.

The owners of the Gallipolis Shake Shoppe, the Snedaker family, are claiming that the Ironton location is infringing on a copyright by using the Shake Shoppe name and artwork, which has been in place in Ironton and other towns for decades.

The name and imagery have been shared by locations in the region since they were founded in the 1950s.

Of those six restaurants, only the Gallipolis location is owned by the original family, now in its third generation.

The Ironton location is contesting this and how everything will play out in federal court is unclear.

But a larger issue exists outside of the legal merits of the case.

Let’s assume, for the sake of conversation, that perhaps there is a legal case for Gallipolis, who trademarked the images and name only two years ago.

But, even if this were so, the old phrase comes to mind: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The current owners claims the logos were drawn by their grandmother, Marge Snedaker, one of the Gallipolis location’s founders. Brown said the Ironton location is disputing this.

If the claim of Gallipolis is the case, then this suit is certainly not in the spirit of her intentions.

For nearly 70 years, these designs and the name have been shared, not just with the Ironton location’s original owners, but also with two successors preceding Cogan and Brown.

As for the argument in the lawsuit that the Ironton location is hurting business in Gallipolis, this is absurd.

Again, these locations have coexisted for more than half a century, through multiple generations, with no issues. They are in two different metro areas and more than an hour apart.

Gallipolis only trademarked these things in 2019, after Brown and Cogan bought the Ironton location, and the suit was not filed until this year, after Marge Snedaker’s death.

The timing of this suit leads one to question the true motivation behind it.

And this entire saga seems to be based in a lack of vision by those in Gallipolis.

Instead of needlessly pitting one small business against another, the owners in Gallipolis should have taken advantage of what they had – a brand that was recognizable and loved throughout the region.

Under this longstanding tradition, if one location prospered, it was only good publicity for the others.

Look no further than next month’s Ironton-Gallipolis football game. The familiarity of the Shake Shoppe name in Ironton could have brought a boost inbusiness to Gallipolis from visiting fans.

Now this likely won’t be the case. If community reaction in Ironton is any indication, Fighting Tigers supporters probably won’t have any interest in dropping by to spend any money at the Gallipolis location.

Rather than engage in a drawn-out legal fight for two years (a jury trial isn’t scheduled to until May 2023 at the earliest), the owners in Gallipolis should move to resolve what is quickly becoming a public relations nightmare and drop this suit.

As history has shown and their family members of the past intended, there is room in southern Ohio for multiple Shake Shoppes.

By following the example set by their grandparents, the current owners could easily benefit from an agreement that allows both Ironton and Gallipolis to continue to have establishments that are a long time tradition in their cities.