Fred’s Water Ice – The Brand and the Man

Fred Cooper, the popular and influential owner of Fred's Water Ice, i a true community asset in Southwest Philadelphia
Fred Cooper, the popular and influential owner of Fred's Water Ice, i a true community asset in Southwest Philadelphia

Everyone in Southwest knows Fred’s Water Ice and its founder and owner Fred Cooper.  He established his business here in 1988 as a retail and wholesale water ice supplier at 5343 Chester Avenue. Since then, he has been a staple in the community, open from 9:00 a.m. to 12 Midnight every day. In addition to Fred’s mouthwatering selections of water ice, he sells soft and hard ice cream, soft and cheese pretzels, milkshakes, chicken tenders, seasoned fries and more. 

Patrons of his stand take relief from the hot sun under its bright red and white canopy and enjoy courteous service from his staff in matching uniforms.  Customers for his wholesale products admire his colorful water ice distribution buckets displaying the red, white, & blue emblems of the Liberian flag and American flags 

Charismatic and verbose, Fred quickly captivates people with his energy and enthusiasm and his vision for the Southwest community.  A 49-year old divorced father of six, he was born in Liberia and immigrated to New York with his family when he was 11 years old. Four years later, he, his mother and six siblings moved to Philadelphia. 

Describing his tough early life, he noted, “There is a destiny for everybody. Everything God puts us through, he does for a reason.” In true entrepreneurial fashion, Fred saw the potential in operating is own cart and started selling hot dogs in front of Bartram High School. In the evening, he sold water ice.  As a teenager, he also worked at a Burger King and then the Sheraton Hotel. 

From a friend who helped finance his business expansion, Fred purchased his first water ice machine. Feeling a divine hand in much that he does, he confided, “Whenever you work for something, God will give it to you and no matter what, you can’t lose it!” For eight years or so, the business was rocky and went into sheriff’s sale four times. Thanks to his perseverance and help from some city officials for licenses and clearance he was able to survive and thrive!

Fred’s commitment to hard work derives in part from the example of family members who didn’t do so well.  He tried always to be positive while maintaining his integrity and values. He vowed never to sell or use destructive things like drugs, nicotine products, alcohol or do anything illicit that could destroy someone’s life.  He tried always to have standards that were a good example to the community. 

As a former member of Southwest CDC’s Neighborhood Advisory Sub-Committee (NAS), Fred also tries to build up the community.  Where he can, Fred employs people from the neighborhood. He also takes pains to mentor young workers. “I let them know that I am here for them.” In particular, he helps them establish good credit. “Credit is life in this country… There’s a lot of opportunity for those who have it.”  Fred knows this firsthand since he purchased that apartment building when he was 19 and paid it off fully by the age of 21. 

About the future, Fred has plans to create a community center with banquet and recreation halls, office and storage space, and more.  To that end, he has already acquired all the land and buildings and is seeking financing and staff to bring it to fruition. 

He seems to take his cue from Emerson’s poem “What is success?”

 “… to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” 

By these standards, Fred is a success!

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