Ice cream fans helping rescue shop from tax debt

Matt Dunning

Let no one say that a little thing like taxes can stand between Cambride, Mass., residents and their favorite ice cream.

No sooner did the news break that Toscanini’s ice cream shop owed more than $100,000 in state taxes did fans of the Central Square sweet shop begin coming out of the woodwork, with their checkbooks open.

Last Thursday, the state’s Department of Revenue seized Toscanini’s on Main Street, saying owner Gus Rancatore owes $167,000 in unpaid taxes. Within a day’s time, Rancatore launched an online campaign to save his shop, asking loyal patrons to shell out $25,000 so he could put a down payment on his debt to the state. By 4:30 p.m. Monday, Rancatore had already raised more than $10,089.

“It has been amazing to receive so much support from friends and customers, in Cambridge and far away,” Rancatore wrote in a letter to fans and media. The letter was posted on, where Rancatore has been collecting Paypal donations since Friday. Rancatore said in his letter that the donations would be used for “a down payment that will convince the Mass. DOR to allow us to reopen.”

The bulk of the money Rancatore owes — about $140,000 — is in meal taxes dating back as early as 2000, Department of Revenue spokesman Bob Bliss said. The rest was in employee withholding taxes.

“It certainly is too large of an amount to have happened by accident,” Bliss said.

In his letter, Rancatore blamed an attempt to expand his business for his financial troubles. He once owned Toscanini’s locations in Harvard Square and on the MIT campus, both of which have since closed. Rancatore also owned the Someday Café in Somerville, Mass., which closed in 2006.

Supporters of the erstwhile ice cream parlor, a mainstay for cool treats in Central Square since 1981, have been leaving their best wishes along with their dollars on Rancatore’s Web site since Friday.

“I don't care whose fault it is or what led to taxes not being paid,” one supporter wrote on Rancatore’s Web site. “I care about having a city that is filled with more than just global chains and their focus group-engineered offerings. Toscanini's is a part of what makes Cambridge a vital, livable place. Donating money to the Save Toscanini's fund isn't paying someone else's debt, it's supporting an enriched urban life in Cambridge.”

Another commenter on the site offered a justification for donating to Rancatore’s cause, calling it a boon for small business owners struggling against nationwide chain outlets.

“The point is, by donating we're not supporting tax evasion, what we're doing is helping out a small business that made some mistakes,” the anonymous supporter wrote, “but by not donating (and keeping the store closed) you're essentially screwing the bolts into Toscanini's front door.”

Not everyone who visited Rancatore’s Web site was so kind. Several people who visited the Web site over the weekend said they were outraged at the idea of donating money to a for-profit company, just to help it pay off its debts.

“As customers, we did our part: we bought the product,” one person wrote. “You made money. The government expects you to do your part. We shouldn't have to do that for you, too.”

Cambridge Chronicle