Why We Urgently Need Lemonade Stands in the Suburbs

13 Sep

What did I learn this summer? When life throws you block after unsustainable block of makeshift cardboard neighbourhood, just make lemonade.

Is it reasonable to place the salvation of our fatally designed suburbs into the citrus-stained hands of our eight-year-olds? It’s ludicrous. But that’s my suggestion.

If you want to find lemonade, you need to think like a lemonade stand. You need randomness of thought. You need a minivan. Some tiny part of you must believe that the world is going to be OK. At 3:47 pm, I had all of this. I had a minivan. The minivan’s thermometer was up to 29C. I crisscrossed the inner city, through the old German and Italian neighbourhoods, north and west, past the communities where they’re closing schools, further north and further west, into the communities where they’re urgently trying to build new schools. And then I went north and west some more.

My plan was to make a study of each lemonade stand I found on route. The hypothesis was that everything that was “off” about the suburbs could be recalibrated by lemonade stands. The draconian zoning bylaws that have systematically choked our communities don’t apply to eight-year-olds. To put it more obviously: when life throws you block after unsustainable block of makeshift cardboard neighbourhood, just make lemonade.

Stopping at a lemonade stand is the urban equivalent of pausing to smell the roses. And if you pass by a lemonade stand on a hot day without doubling back—it doesn’t matter if you’re late for dinner—your soul is bound for hell. Of course, if after 55 minutes and 37 km of random driving, you find yourself idling in front of a Dash Gas, which sells flavoured coffee and Iced cappuccinos, yet to find a single lemonade stand, the question slowly becomes: perhaps you are already in hell?

The thinking behind mixed use neighbourhoods is by putting a couple of townhouses next to a  green grocer, a lawyer’s office next to a flower shop, some condos above a corner store and small library—even if you round it out with a couple of oversized McMansions, you’ve got a kick ass place to live. You become friends with the person who sells you onions, with the local barista, with the manager of your bank. Most importantly, you can reach all these people on foot. (Right now, we drive 45 minutes to work, half-an-hour to the grocery store, twenty minutes to meet a friend for a cup of coffee.) Besides the garage sales, nomadic ice cream vans and visits from a Heart & Stroke canvasser or Jehovah’s Witness, the closest we come to that sort of golden age mixed use street that turns your stomach into butterflies is when a lemonade opens up. Lemonade stands are closer, cheaper and more joyful than driving to get some fatty cup of slush coffee.

The problem with lemonade stands in most major cities, however, is that they’re fly by night operations. Kids dabble for an afternoon, check if off their list of things they’re supposed to do in the summer, then start building a tree fort.

Is it reasonable to place the salvation of our fatally designed suburbs into the citrus-stained hands of our eight-year-olds? It’s ludicrous! But that’s my suggestion. After decades of unmitigated sprawl, it’s safe to say your city council won’t do it for you. The developers haven’t done it. The adults show no sign that they care.

Entering a district (appropriately) called Edgemont at 5:49 pm, the van’s thermometre read 30C. It is warmer, and slightly windier as you go north. I followed the number 77 bus route. A father and son walked together to check their community mail box. What I suspected was a problem, I now wondered wasn’t a full-blown crisis. There was still no sign of a lemonade stand.

I noticed a group of kids sitting on a lawn. They looked numb with boredom. “I’ll stake you guys in a lemonade operation,” I wanted yell. But I had a fear of slowing down. A single man chatting up children from his van window qualifies as extremely suspicious behaviour.

I drifted deeper into the rush hour commute, some men had their ties loosened, others had shirts buttons undone, others still had taken them right off. Sweat on brow. These were lemonade stand customers. But 85 km and three hours after I left—still no lemonade—it occurred that maybe kids just don’t know how to start a lemonade stand.

Wikihow,com has a ridiculously detailed guide to running a good stand, with pearls ranging from “you always want to look like you love selling lemonade and that the lemonade business is booming” to  “ask a friend to stick a couple brightly colored signs on himself or herself and have him or her ride a bicycle around the neighborhood, advertising your lemonade stand.”

If you’re putting together a lemonade operation, it’s paramount you market the heck out of it because of their transient nature. You can’t go out and buy sandwich boards. Nothing professional. Sunkist has a site where they give away free starter kits.

You don’t need click that link! You need to scrounge up old pieces of scrap plywood. It’s got to come from the shed. If you don’t have a shed, go door to door. If you have a neighobour named Mr. Wilson, ask him to help you. What this is really is the beginning of your marketing. You want the community to take some ownership in this lemonade stand. Never forget—and this could very well be the central tenet of lemonade stands—you’re between the ages of six and twelve. Take advantage of your kidness. It is almost like a super power. But remember: only use this power for good.

If you’re selling Kool-Aid, don’t price it at more than 50 cents. But I’d urge you to think twice before you sell Kool-Aid. Yes, it’s easier. I think it’s cheating, though. I’m not a purist. I’m happy to have freshly squeezed orange juice or grapefruit juice. Be smart about where you procured your supplies. Safeway must have the most overpriced lemons in town. The market is the place to go. Especially if you’re eight and tell the South Asian man you want a deal on a box of lemons. He’s a tough negotiator. But fair. Go on a Sunday.

Next, you need to photocopy some flyers. Handwrite—you’ve got to handwrite (pencil crayon or crayon)—explain what makes your lemonade special. Explain why neighbourhoods need lemonade stands. Make a chart with how your prices compare to crappy fountain pop at the multiplex, to non-nutritious slurpees, to high calorie frappes. Give your customer the option to pay with pesos, Canadian Tire money or sour soothers. Don’t move your stand around. This is your corner. Protect it. Care for it.  You don’t have to do this in front of your house. If you live close to a bus stop, that’s good place. Tell your parents not fear for your safety. With a lemonade stand, there’s a collective neighbourhood eye out on the kids, the traffic going by—every gesture in the neighbourhood—is to protect the only evidence that this community matters.

Start by opening on a Thursday and Friday from 3pm to 7pm—and Saturday afternoons. Mom’s going to want you to come in for dinner at 5:30 or six. But she’s also gotta cut you some slack on lemonade stand nights. You have to be out there when people are home from work. (ll bets are off when it rains or the temperature drops below 20.)

Think like a lemonade stand. (Photo via Sunkist.)

There is a curious amount of pressure in these prepackaged lemonade stand endeavors, to raise money for charity. The fact that you’ve adding a ray of life to a residential neighbourhood is enough. A four-year-old named Alexandra “Alex” Scott who, after being diagnosed with a neuroblastoma, opened a lemonade stand to raise money to help her doctors cure kids with cancer. She died four years later, having raised over $1 million. “Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation” has since raised over $12 million for childhood cancer research. I think this is admiral, but frankly I don’t believe the money you make from your lemonade stand needs to go to curing cancer. Most businesses don’t give away all their profits. Start with a healthy percentage. Just because you’re a kid, doesn’t mean there’s any special obligation to give away everything you make

There were 45,568 km on the minivan when I started, and by the time I reached 45,672, my thighs were sweaty and my underwear had crawled up my ass. I dipped under the power lines, where at 7:45 pm they were bull dozing more hinterland. The people who live out here might say I caught them on a bad day. But for four hours on a scorching summer afternoon, which had long since turned to evening, there were no lemonade stands. Nobody playing tennis. Nobody in the fields. Only a handful of people walking dogs. Meandering back into the city, the DJ apologized for playing an old Leslie Feist song. The one about living out loud. I felt tears in my eyes. But not in the American Beauty plastic bag way. I turned up the volume as loudly as it would go. I realized I didn’t actually want lemonade today. I just wanted to feel the immortality that one feels when they are young in summer. The sense of discovery around every corner that this model for a city has taken away. —CHRIS KOENTGES


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