Between kids on summer vacation and the heat wave that's been sweeping the nation for the past two weeks, I've seen far too many child-operated lemonade stands popping up in driveways, on street corners, and even at Lake Calhoun. But you have to wonder...is this legal? Every so often, you hear about the police shutting down a child's stand because they didn't have the proper permits for street-vending. These stories are followed immediately by a public outcry from people who think the law enforcement officials shouldn't take the law so seriously.
When Iowa comes up in conversation, I normally keep my mouth shut and attempt to sneak away silently, hoping to avoid the embarrassment, shame, and mocking that others typically bestow upon me for having grown up one of the nation's top five most boring states. But this week marked one of the few times that I stood up tall and shouted proudly from the rooftop that I hail from the corn capitol of the world.
On Monday night, I heard on the news that police officers in Coralville, Iowa recently shut down a child's lemonade stand because he didn't have a vendor's permit. I tried to look up the story online, but my search yielded both delight and disappointment. Somehow, I couldn't find any record of the story, but I did turn up a remarkably similar tale from last summer.
In late July of 2011, Coralville cops shut down three different lemonade stands in one weekend! My favorite line from the article came from a woman named Bobbie Nelson, whose six children had their stand shut down after just twenty minutes after negligently failing to acquire the necessary $400 vendor permit. Nelson said, "The kids were devastated. They just cried and didn't understand why."
The only thing I don't understand is why these stories are newsworthy. These vendor permit laws are designed to protect the health and safety of the public. Why should age exempt anyone--especially children--from a well-intentioned ordinance? Especially when children are notoriously germy and wash their hands after going to the bathroom about as often as they purchase vending permits. Having their lemonade stands shut down provides these budding entrepreneurs with a valuable life lesson in the mechanics of running a business and in adhering to the laws of their local communities. I've heard that Kenneth Lay, Andrew Fasdow, and the other criminal executives at Enron all ran unlicensed lemonade stands as children. Coincidence? We may never know for sure...
I'm a law-abiding citizen--and one who finds children endlessly annoying--but I also have economic reasons behind my delight in the noble efforts of the Coralville P.D. Let's face it: these days, you can't find a kid selling lemonade for less than a quarter a cup...and those cups are usually tiny. Based on the input costs, that cup of lemonade shouldn't cost more than five or ten cents, which would still provide a reasonable return for the stand operator. What gives these kids the right to think that they can gouge the unsuspecting public by charging more than double the fair market price for their product? And it's not uncommon to find children hawking cups of fifty-cent lemonade! The profit margins are outrageous--I think they're involved in some kind of twisted price-fixing scheme!
The situation has me thinking about a fun and potentially profitable way to spend some vacation days next summer. On those unbearably hot July days, I'm going to take a week off work, find a town with a lax police department, and locate some children running lemonade stands I'll set up shop right next door and give 'em the old Bill Gates routine. First, I'll buy lemons and sugar in bulk quantities and achieve tremendous economics of scale, then I'll set my prices so low that their little enterprises will be crushed within minutes, leaving them with nothing but tears and an unsold inventory of overpriced lemonade. Then it's off to the next driveway to destroy the next competitor who dares challenge me.
I'm confident that the public will welcome a trustworthy, adult vendor who is offering a fair price for cold, refreshing lemonade on a hot summer day. If the cops won't take care of business, someone has to step in...and that someone is me. With my love of hot weather, spending time outdoors, and crushing the dreams of children, I can't think of a job better suited to my unique interests and abilities. And I can guarantee this: my business will hold all of the necessary and required permits. Now that's newsworthy, and I'll glady welcome the free publicity that will undoubtedly swarm to my stand.
Here's a link to the story of Coralville's finest police work: