6 Illicit Lemonade Stands Towns Had to Shut Down
By Rob Lammle
Lemonade stand image via Shutterstock
For generations, entrepreneurial kids have set up card tables in front yards to sell ice cold drinks to passers-by. But sometimes the law catches up with these renegade youngsters.
1. 1983 – Belleair, Florida
Like a lot of kids, six-year old Ali Thorn wanted to make some money. She didn’t have dreams of fancy cars, yachts, or a place in the Hamptons, though; she just wanted enough to buy stickers. However, her tiny dreams came crashing down when police received an anonymous tip that her crude cardboard sign in the front yard did not comply with the city’s ordinances. Officer Ed Warren reluctantly delivered the news to Ali and her mom that the lemonade stand would have to come down.
But the Thorns didn’t just roll over. They went to the next Belleair Town Commission meeting to complain and, a few days later, the commission decided that the sign ordinance wasn’t designed to prevent kids from setting up their own front yard businesses. They also decided that anonymous complaints about ordinance violations would no longer be allowed.
So, eleven days after it was shut down, Ali’s shop opened again. The first person in line to buy a cup of her homemade lemonade was Officer Warren. To show there were no hard feelings, Ali let him have the drink for free.
2. 1988 – Watchung, New Jersey
In the summer of 1988, Max’s Soda Stand, run by 9-year old Max Schilling, was cited by Watchung officials for zoning violations after they said his 7’ tall stand was considered a permanent structure and that it sat too close to the street. With daily sales of about $12.50, Max couldn’t afford the $500 per day fine he’d receive if he stayed in business, so he reluctantly closed up shop.
In response to the city’s citation, Max’s dad jumped into action. The first thing he did was call the local newspaper, which was thrilled to run a juicy story about city hall “squeezing” a kid’s lemonade stand. He also paid the $250 fee to apply for a zoning variance, and then contacted zoning lawyer Daniel Bernstein, who offered to work the case pro bono. According to a contemporary New York Times story, at the variance hearing, Bernstein argued that the stand should be considered an accessory, rather than a separate structure, and was prepared to bring in engineers and architects to testify if necessary.
Two weeks after the hearing, the city allowed Max to reopen with a few conditions, but he ended up losing $89 that summer.
3. 1993 – Charleston, South Carolina
12-year-old Sarah Knott and 13-year-old Margaret Johnson had their stand shut down by Charleston officers because they didn’t have a peddler’s license. However, after a public outcry, City Hall and Police Major Charles Wiley offered the girls a heartfelt apology. Wiley even did one better – he asked the girls to set up shop outside the police station instead.
4. 2010 – Portland, Oregon
On the last Thursday of every month, Alberta Street in Portland comes alive for a loosely organized, semi-impromptu art festival where artists, musicians, and food carts pack the block and celebrate the city’s creative vibe. It was at one of these street fairs in July 2010 that 7-year-old Julie Murphy and her mom set up a lemonade stand, where they were selling drinks for 50 cents each.
However, about 20 minutes after opening for business, a county health inspector asked to see her temporary restaurant permit, a license that carries a $120 fee that little Julie had obviously not obtained. Without the permit, Julie and her mom had to stop selling lemonade or face a $500 fine. Owners at surrounding booths suggested Julie write “Free” on the sign and put out a tip jar, but that wasn’t enough for the inspectors. An argument ensued between the other booths and the inspectors, and Julie and her mom went home in tears.
After an online campaign from Oregonians, the national media picked up on the story and Julie suddenly became a pint-sized symbol of the plight of the small business owner. But the situation fizzled after Jeff Cogen, the Multnomah County chairman, called Julie and Maria to apologize. He admitted the health inspectors were doing their jobs, but might have overstepped their bounds, saying, “a 7-year-old selling lemonade isn’t the same as a grown-up selling burritos out of a cart.”
5. 2011 – Midway, Georgia
Image credit: Jekyll Island
It’s notoriously hot in Georgia during the summer, so Kasity Dixon, 14, Tiffany Cassin, 12, and Skylar Roberts, 10, decided to open a lemonade stand in Midway to make enough money for the trio to visit the Summer Waves Water Park on nearby Jekyll Island. They had been open for about a day and business was good, including a couple of cups purchased by two local police officers. Later, a different police officer came by and told the girls they had to close the stand because they didn’t have a business license, a peddler’s permit, or a food permit, all of which would have cost them $50 a day to obtain for temporary use or $180 for the year. Despite national media attention and complaints from residents, the city wouldn't budge.
The City of Midway might not have been so kind to the girls, but luckily Steve Sharpe, the general manager of Summer Waves, had a bigger heart. After he heard about the girls, now dubbed “The Midway Lemonade Girls,” Sharpe not only invited them to spend a day at the park free of charge, but he also gave them the opportunity to sell lemonade for two hours in a stand that his staff built especially for them. The girls gave a portion of their proceeds to a local animal shelter and had a great time on the water slides.
6. 2011 – Appleton, Wisconsin
Every year, the city of Appleton hosts the Old Car Show, which draws in thousands of visitors. For the past seven years, the young Coenen sisters had been running a lemonade and cookie stand to serve people as they made their way to the show. That is until the city passed an ordinance the month before that banned vendors selling food and drink within a two-block radius of the event. The ordinance was put in place to protect the non-profit groups running concessions at the event itself, but it also meant the Coenens would have to close up shop. In order to deplete their stock, the girls put a sign out front that read, “The City Shut Us Down” and started giving away food and drinks with a tip jar accepting donations.
Neighbors, upset by the ban, complained to city hall, where officials started looking for a workaround to the situation. However, they soon realized the workaround was already there in the code itself. The ordinance only banned licensed vendors from selling near the event, but you don’t need a license to run a lemonade stand in Wisconsin. The police apologized to the family and the officers have received additional training on how to properly enforce the code from now on.
2011 – Savannah, Georgia
It's not just lemonade stands that are under fire. For decades, the Girl Scouts of Savannah have sold the organization's cookies on the sidewalk in front of the home of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. But peddling on a public sidewalk in Savannah is a violation of a city ordinance, and the city was forced to stop the sales after they received an anonymous complaint. The action sparked interest from around the world, with reporters calling city hall from as far away as Australia and New Zealand to interview city employees.
Over the next few days, zoning officials and residents searched for a loophole that would allow the girls to continue the long-standing tradition, but it wasn't looking good. Then, Michael Gaster, a former candidate for state legislator, found the loophole – Section 6-1615 – which endowed the city manager with the power to give written permission to allow sidewalk sales. City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney agreed, as long as the girls applied for a business tax certificate and did their best to keep the sidewalk clear. With the proper paperwork filed, the girls were back in business a few days later.
2011 – Hazelwood, Missouri
In March 2011, Caitlin and Abigail Mills were told by Hazelwood police that they couldn't sell Girl Scout Cookies in their own driveway. Although city officials had known for seven years that the girls were violating an ordinance banning the sale of items from a residential property, they had turned a blind eye. But when an anonymous neighbor called to complain about dogs barking at customers picking up their cookies, police decided they could no longer ignore the violation. The sisters estimate they missed out on about $1,200 in sales as a result of the shutdown.
Unhappy with the ban, the Mills, along with pro bono help from the Freedom Center of Missouri, have filed suit against the City of Hazelwood, claiming their constitutional rights are being limited by the city's ordinance. In August, a St. Louis County judge threw the case out, saying the girls needed to try to resolve the matter through zoning variances before bringing the case to court. However, that judgment was overruled in March of this year, by a judge who feels that it’s not the place of the Hazelwood city council to decide on constitutional issues. The Mills sisters will get their date in court, and some legal analysts are saying the outcome of the case could set a precedent that would finally declare a winner in the war on lemonade stands.
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For more stories like these, check out this Google Map of Local Restrictions on Kid-Run Concession Stands. Did you have a lemonade stand as a kid? Tell us about your entrepreneurial adventures in the comments.