My childhood home was a prime location for a lemonade stand. We were one house away from the corner of a high-traffic road, and the Calgary summer was a dry, punishing brand of heat. We could have made off like bandits. Yet my little brother and I decided to dream bigger. Every kid, we reasoned, would have a lemonade stand. Some tried to mix it up with Kool-Aid, but that was as far as they’d go, the cowards. No. Boring. We needed to set ourselves apart entirely.
Our mother had the motivation to support our entrepreneurial goals; occupying a six- and an eight-year-old for two whole months is guaranteed to sap your sanity. Many mothers would have made a cooler of punch and hustled the kids out the door. Not ours. Ours was an active and frequent participant in our Frankensteinian brainstorms. The concept she concocted was so simple, it seemed inconceivable that no one else on the block was doing it. Now, I take partial credit for this scheme, because at the time, I was in love with the concept of variety stores. They peppered the small UK villages we visited on holidays. I was thrilled to find an umbrella, a novel, a tackle box, a fly swatter, and an ice cream freezer in the same store. It’s like art – technically, you can put any random assortment of things together, and it still counts.
(No, I did not do well in art class.)
The basic idea was that, rather than a moment’s refreshment, we could sell lasting joy. Items of meaning and sentimental value. However, to keep cost of goods low, we decided to go the thrift-shop route and just sell a tasteful ‘variety’ of things we found around the house. These included a gigantic stack of our dad’s old issues of National Geographic, a plastic doll that was once the decoration on my birthday cake, a toy car with one tiny Hot Wheel missing, and some foreign coins. This last was probably the only bargain; since we didn’t know the exchange rate, we were likely giving currency away. It had the taste of a rickety alleyway market.
Dad dragged an old plastic play table out to the front lawn. To his credit, he fully committed to this exciting new investment opportunity, and only laughed, I assume, behind closed doors. My brother drew up the pricing model; I spent the better part of an hour arranging our wares in a visually pleasing fashion. It was flawless. After all, if it’s 32 degrees Celsius in the shade, you’re walking to the park with your dog, and you only have a toonie in your pocket, how would you rather spend your money – on a cool glass of sweetness that takes away your horrible discomfort for one shining minute, or on a ten-year-old magazine whose cover features a lone cow’s skull in a desert wasteland?
Then there was our secret weapon. In our front yard grew a crab-apple tree to which our neighbours flocked, picked, ate, and threw the cores unceremoniously on the lawn. That draw, combined with our sales techniques (wave, smile, look just adorable) and our unique merchandise, would give us a vital edge.
Unlike the tree, however, our business acumen bore no fruit that first day. We sat in silence hour upon hour, only breaking when Mom came out to make us reapply sunscreen. I remember squinting into the light as our one potential customer of the day stopped his SUV and rolled down the window.
“You kids got lemonade or something?” he called.
Offended by this careless stereotyping, I shook my head aggressively. My brother gestured to our goods, Vanna White style, flashing a thousand-watt grin. The man wore aviators, but it was probably pity in his eyes as he turned from us and drove away. The lesson: If pity won’t get you what you need, nothing will.
In conversation with my brother now, seventeen years later, I am reminded that the “lost white hagglers of Persia” operated for a respectable three seasons. Most new businesses fold after two. I’d like to think Mark Cuban would be impressed by our scrappy spirit. I have no idea how much revenue we generated, if any; I think we may have charged people for eating the crab-apples. When you’re young, money should be incidental. It was just a fun, creative, excruciatingly pointless endeavour, a hallmark of childhood.
Besides, it gave me a taste of the starving, misunderstood artist’s lifestyle, and never let me go.