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Lemonade Stands and Regulations

This is a story about Julie Murphy.

Julie Murphy is from Oregon City. She was inspired to become an entrepreneur by one of her favorite television shows. She and her mother traveled up to Portland, to set up shop in a more lucrative location — Alberta Street. As is often the case, Julie was shut down by the authorities and their “heavy handed regulations.”

The authorization in question is a $120 temporary restaurant license. The business in question is a lemonade stand. Julie Murphy is seven years old.

Even before her daughter had finished making the first batch of lemonade, a man walked up to buy a 50-cent cup.

“They wanted to support a little 7-year-old to earn a little extra summer loot,” she said. “People know what’s going on.”

Even so, Julie was careful about making the lemonade, cleaning her hands with hand sanitizer, using a scoop for the bagged ice and keeping everything covered when it wasn’t in use, Fife said.

Everything was going great for Julie and her mom . . . until the authorities showed up.

After 20 minutes, a “lady with a clipboard” came over and asked for their license. When Fife explained they didn’t have one, the woman told them they would need to leave or possibly face a $500 fine.

Surprised, Fife started to pack up. The people staffing the booths next to them encouraged the two to stay, telling them the inspectors had no right to kick them out of the neighborhood gathering. They also suggested that they give away the lemonade and accept donations instead and one of them made an announcement to the crowd to support the lemonade stand.

That’s when business really picked up — and two inspectors came back, Fife said. Julie started crying, while her mother packed up and others confronted the inspectors. “It was a very big scene,” Fife said.

Technically, any lemonade stand — even one on your front lawn — must be licensed under state law, said Eric Pippert, the food-borne illness prevention program manager for the state’s public health division. But county inspectors are unlikely to go after kids selling lemonade on their front lawn unless, he conceded, their front lawn happens to be on Alberta Street during Last Thursday.

If Lemonade Stand taught me anything, it was the basics of capitalism and entrepreneurship. I learned how to build a business from scratch, keep track of inventory and finances, and understand what kept me afloat. I even opened a lemonade stand in my apartment complex in Hong Kong at age eight, to see what all the fuss is about.

While safety concerns are legitimate, this was a responsible seven-year-old with her mother on hand. Laws are laws, and health regulations are realistic, but . . . seriously Oregon?

I leave you with this, from Julie Murphy’s mother:

While Fife said she does see the need for some food safety regulation, she thinks the county went too far in trying to control events as unstructured as Last Thursday.

“As far as Last Thursday is concerned, people know when they are coming there that it’s more or less a free-for-all,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where they need to be in all of our decisions. They don’t trust us to make good choices on our own.”

  1. Betz says:

    At least the story had a happy ending … either the license was obtained, or the ruling was overturned. Julie set up her lemonade stand over the weekend, and people from all over the city were pouring money in, mostly as donations. Even businesses helped with the donations, including Les Schwab and Flying Pie Pizza. The story was covered by international journalists, even. According to Fife, who conducted an interview on 105.1 FM this morning (Yea, I listen to ‘The Buzz’ …), the farthest journalist to cover the story: United Arab Emirates.

    In all, they had earned over $1800 in the time they were set up. And what is the family going to do with all of that hard earned cash?

    They’re going to Disneyland.

    Best. Story. Ever!

  2. Curtis says:

    Honestly, I’m not even sure it matters if it would matter if the mom wasn’t there. If you’re buying lemonade from a 7-year old, I think most reasonable people expect they are taking a risk about everything not being up to code.

  3. JB says:

    Let’s give (bad) credit where it’s due: it’s “Seriously, Multnomah County?” The state has no hand in hassling little girls (this time).

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