Police Crackdown on Renegade Lemonade Stands

Muggers, burglars, and thieves? No worries.

Fraudsters and scammers? Not a concern.

Neighborhood drug dealers? Where?

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure happy to know that local law enforcement is keeping us citizens safe from unlicensed, underage lemonade stand operators. These scum are a scourge on this nation! Once the cops get that under control, maybe they can take up the War on Minors Who Mow Lawns and Shovel Snow! A valuable use of time and taxpayer money, that’s for sure! (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

lemonade stand cartoon imageAbout a month ago, a group of kids in Bethesda, Maryland, decided to raise some money for a pediatric cancer charity. They took advantage of the extra crowds from the U.S. Open and set up a lemonade stand. (Adults in the area were making big bucks charging people to park on their property during the event.) The kids were doing pretty well until a county inspector took notice and told them to close up shop. The parents ignored the first couple warnings and were then told they’d have to pay a $500 fine.

Technically, the inspector had every legal right to shut the lemonade stand down. The stand was near a heavily-trafficked corner — which, of course, is good marketing –, so there were safety concerns. Also, the kids (i.e., their parents) had not purchased a vendor’s license, which is required by law. But, the odd thing that stood out to me was a couple of remarks made by the authorities. Jennifer Hughes, director of permitting for Montgomery County, noted that they were serving bottled drinks out of 4 large coolers under a 10X10 tent.

“This is not what you would see when you picture a typical lemonade stand,” she said.

It was also the size of the operation that spurred the inspector to take action, rather than ignore it as they normally do.

“Cute little kids making five or ten dollars is a little bit different than making hundreds. You’ve got coolers and coolers here,” the inspector responded.

Is that really relevant? Should level of success really be a main factor in deciding whether to crack down on a business even as small as this one? Notice that it wasn’t just the 10×10 tent or the “coolers and coolers” but the “making hundreds” that bothered him. Would the location or lack of permit have been much of an issue if the kids’ business wasn’t booming? (Nobody mentioned any kids running out into the road like street people trying to sell stuff.) Ya gotta wonder…

The good news is that county officials decided to let them re-open 100 feet down the road and waived the $500 fine. Yay! (Just don’t think about the additional, lost revenue that would have gone to that charity.)

lemonade stand behind police tape - ap

(Photo borrowed from AP)

A new, similar report comes from Midway, Georgia, this week, as broken by WJCL-TV and The Coastal Source. Three young girls wanted to go to the local waterpark, Splash in the Boro. One of the mothers decided it was a good opportunity to teach the girls the value of money and responsibility by earning their own money to buy the tickets. So, they set up a lemonade stand on a street in their neighborhood. Within a day, the local cops (including the Midway Police Chief) noticed it and told them they had to shut it down.

As in the previous case, the “perps” had neglected to get the requisite permits — in this case, a business license, a peddler’s permit, and a food permit. Even though the stand was on residential property. Total costs: $50/day + $180/year. I can understand if it’s for a year-round, or even seasonal, hot dog stand or snack shack or something. But, a kids’ lemonade stand that will be gone in a few days?!

Again, the police were totally in their purview to act as they did.

“[W]e can’t let you do it anymore. The law is the law, and we have to be consistent with how we enforce the laws,” said Chief Kelly Morningstar, who was backed up by the Mayor.

But, what caught my attention this time was something else Chief Morningstar said:

“We were not aware of how the lemonade was made, who made the lemonade, of what the lemonade was made with, so we acted accordingly by city ordinance.”

I understand that law enforcement is concerned with public safety, but are they now outsourcing for the FDA, too? Has “bad” lemonade really been a problem over the decades of young entrepreneurs running neighborhood lemonade stands? Is there a lot of lemonade terrorism in this semi-rural town of 1100? Is it common for such outfits to let the family dog lick the spoon or pee in the pitcher? Any lawsuits been issued against lemonade stand operators (or their parents), because someone got sick from lemonade made in purportedly unsanitary conditions? (Does that include “outside”, where dust and pollen swirl?) Just wondering….

Amy Roberts, mother of 10-year-old Skylar, thought it a better lesson for the girls to comply with the law rather than be defiant and make a stink about it. “I don’t want them disobeying the law.” She also refused to accept offers of money from those who wanted to help, since that would undermine the lessons she was trying to instill about earning money to pay for (fun) things. Interestingly, they did accept tickets to the waterpark donated by The Coastal Source. Presumably, the girls are still making extra cash by doing extra chores, yard work, and other stuff for neighbors.

I appreciate the lessons the parents were trying to help the kids learn in both cases. I also appreciate the attitude of Mrs. Roberts in particular and the example she set for the girls in obeying the authorities. And, I can’t really fault the local LEOs for doing their jobs. Still, something seems wrong here.

police car parked on residential streetWhile I hate to cry warnings about “police states”, I do have to wonder if the local authorities in these instances aren’t a little too hung up on the letter of the law rather than spirit of the law. At least in the Bethesda case, the county seemed to have softened their stance in the end. But, if the media hadn’t gotten involved and painted a sympathetic picture of the kids’ plight, what then?

Now, it isn’t like the cops were throwing the kids (or their parents) in jail. No weapons were drawn. And, the only fines threatened were after initial refusal to comply. (That is, the parents pushed back and got slapped.) But, I wonder if a clause or paragraph in the relevant statutes of each state or county could be added that makes exceptions for certain ventures by those under the age of 18, with permit/license requirements lessened in number and cost. Maybe a simple notice sent/given to the appropriate county office and a basic processing fee of $5 or $10? Would that be so difficult, so unreasonable?

I am concerned about what other lessons these kids and others are learning from these events. I hope they can shrug it off and not have their spirits dampened. They’ll have enough rules and regulations and fees and taxes, etc., to deal with when they are adults. Not to overstate the case, but let’s try not to dampen their hopes of achieving the American Dream before they even get a chance to really try.

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