Sweet Comfort: When Mom Gives you Lemons, Make a Lemonade Stand!

January 2012

Two brothers, ages 6 and 8, announce to their father that they want to set up a lemonade stand on the corner.

“How much will you charge per cup?” asks dad.
“Twenty-five cents,” says the beaming 8-year-old.

Dad does some quick calculations in his head and figures out that if the kids are lucky, they’ll sell 10 cups. They’ll wind up drinking the rest, getting stomachaches and possibly cavities, too. Plus, he realizes, it’ll cost him $10 for supplies. “I’ll tell you what,” says dad, who understands and supports his sons’ entrepreneurial spirit. “Go stand on the corner for two hours and I’ll give you $5. Everybody wins.”

While parental worry meters register all-time highs in the 21st century, moms and dads find themselves remembering a kinder, gentler time — and longing for their children to experience the same. Just 12 years ago, an Ohio State University study revealed that grade school boys’ biggest fears were snakes and theme park rides; girl counterparts feared thunderstorms. Yet, recent research finds that youth today worry about terrorist attacks, abduction, AIDS, drive-by shootings, the planet’s condition, the economy and weather-related catastrophes. Teens ranked being raped No. 1, whereas getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant ranked No. 19 — a top fear for their parents.

Few things remain unchanged through the years, so parents especially cherish comforting milestones, like their children beginning kindergarten, learning to ride bikes and setting up lemonade stands. The microcosm of the U.S. economy on a card table introduces kids to supply and demand, pricing, advertising and start-up costs (kudos to parents whose kids don’t rely on them for investment capital).

As early as 1880, The New York Times reported that lemonade stands were an easy means of making money for children. A 1947 Life magazine ad, featuring a boy named Butch who was earning money for a bicycle by selling lemonade, declared Butch would succeed because he had “energy, vision … and the habit of working hard for what he wants.” It concluded, that America’s “most valuable natural resource lies in the ambition and initiative of Americans like Butch.” God bless America.

Recently, though, the sweet childhood landmark has been threatened, too. In Georgia, police shut down a stand run by three grade-school outlaws saving up for a trip to a water park. The poopy po-po said without a business license or required permits (i.e., Board of Health and state peddler’s license) there wasn’t a way to identify the producer or the product’s ingredients. No joke — or isolated incident. From coast to coast, rudimentary capitalism is being squelched with law enforcement refusing to make an exception. Sourpusses! Girl Scouts selling contraband — I mean, cookies — may be next. So long, Thin Mints!

When my kids set up shop curbside back in the day, they didn’t care that we lived on a low-traffic street or that a gray sky threatened. In fact, until he sat down behind the poster declaring his wares in DayGlo markers, my (over)enthusiastic youngest didn’t realize that he was missing a crucial piece to his budding enterprise — paper cups!
Thankfully, a nostalgic neighbor came to the rescue and he was back in business.
Waiting for the first customer took longer than he expected, so it cost me about 75 cents each time I walked to the corner to check on him. His first (nonrelated) customer? A 14-year-old pedestrian who was flat broke. “How about some for free?” my little businessman offered, undeterred.

New Year’s signals inevitable changes ahead, but it also provides an ideal time for reflection on the handful of untouched, surviving relics in suburbia, proof of less complicated times, like the lemonade stand. And, despite crackdowns on kiddie commerce, the lemonade stand won’t easily be squeezed out of its rightful place in Americana. New generations of kids will risk police intervention along with sweltering heat, exhaust fumes, rejection and an afternoon all for a handful of coins.

Then again, it’s not about the change … it’s about what hasn’t.


MariaL's picture

Very inspiring. I can relate because my childhood is no different with your story. I was also taught to sell lemonade outside our house. I can say that it was hard but it has taught me many things. First is being responsible. Another is living with my dreams and doing something about it. It has also taught me how to be responsible with my money. This may be the reason why I was never worried that I might get a payday loan to pay my next bills. And you are right, a lot may change but what hasn't change plays an important role in our lives.

leonardo85's picture

It is a sad reality that the complexities in the society are rising and making things even more difficult for the kids. But parents should create a secure environment for them. Make them aware of the issues this would be better for their safety, you should also keep their things safe with proper labels, on www.stuckonyou.co.uk you would find some adorable labels for the kids.

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