Last week, 7-year old Julie Murphy made national headlines when Multnomah County, Oregon health inspectors arrived at a local arts fair, asking to see a temporary restaurant license for the lemonade stand Julie and her mother had set up. The cost of a license? $120.
Hopes were high for my first lemonade stand. I was around nine or ten and Fourth of July was just around the corner. Sketches I drew up showed a highly advanced design, a four-sided affair with a lifting counter in the back for an exit and shelves underneath for storage. A banner would hang from two posts on the front like a medieval market stall, painted in vibrant shades of yellow and red to catch the attention of passersby.
But my first life lesson in disappointment and the (dis)illusions of grandeur came when my dad arrived home from work a few days later with my stand in the back of his truck. Gone were the side counters. Gone were the banners and bunting. What was there instead was a simple wooden construction, a desk really, that he had built from unpainted sheets of plywood. Nursing my bruised imagination, I carried on.
Independence Day arrived and so did my cousins. We loaded up the golfcart with Mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies and a cooler filled with Country Time lemonade – don’t let our claim of “freshly squeezed” on the posters fool you – and headed to the street corner. With a well-trafficked highway bordering our backyard and a national holiday on our hands, success wasn’t hard to come by. After all, what kind of person could drive past four adorable girls, waving excitedly and smiling like the business owners we all thought we were? On those hot summer days, nothing rivalled the sweet sound of quarters being dropped into the coin trays of my little beige cash box.
So you can imagine my heartbreak at reading the story of the bust on Julie Murphy’s lemonade stand. Photos online show her basic arrangement of a hand-written poster taped to a card table, large red and white water cooler dispensing a Kool-Aid lemonade mix, and a fold-out soccer chair so like the plastic lawn chair we also used. Could you picture anything more harmless, anything more innocent? The health inspectors couldn’t, apparently. “We still need to put the public’s health first,” said Jon Kawaguchi, the county’s environmental health supervisor.
And while TV hosts and anchors on every program from morning talk shows to the nightly news lamented this case of bureaucracy at its worst – and Portland residents begin planning a “Lemonade Revolt” for late August to protest the situation – I find myself thinking mostly of the loss of this childhood tradition so dear to my own heart. Although the chairman of Multnomah County later apologized to Julie and asked the inspectors to stand down, you can’t help but wonder what this will do (or won’t do) to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in children, when the threat of health inspector crack-downs and clipboard-waving officials looms just around the cul-de-sac?
Perhaps the lesson we can all draw from this is that when life hands you lemons…don’t forget your license.