Lemonade Stands and More

A look back at a kids crazy schemes to get cash
July 30, 2009

I am by no means a businessman, commerce is of little concern to me and I rarely even invest in my own future by contributing to a savings account. In fact I don't do any type of investing at all and I used to work in the mutual funds industry! Reflecting on this I realized that the only thing in my life that ever got me off my butt to join the other struggling entrepreneurs of the world was the ever alluring promise of candy and toys. You all know what I'm talking about. In fact I'm willing to bet that the last time most of you started any type of business you were wearing some form of parachute pants or a pair of Reebok Pumps. So let's explore the world of childhood businesses, shall we?

Before we get into the stories of the many shady business deals I was a part of as a child, I'd like to make mention of a universal childhood experience which will add contrast to our discussion, the concept of Chores. I personally had an elaborately illustrated Chore Chart growing up (my Mom was a frustrated artist) that was meant to be adorned with shiny gold star stickers, but unfortunately sat completely empty as I openly rebelled against the concept of chores. I figured I already had food, clothes and TV what did I need star stickers for? Of course once money came into the equation and I learned of the ice cream man's existence I would often be found Windexing (oh, it's a verb) every mirror and window in the house to earn "Popsicle Cash".

But the bottom line is, that chores were never a joy to complete. Working for "The Man" or in this case the "Wo-Man" was unsatisfying and made me feel like a chump. Since I didn't have any siblings still living at home with whom to form a labor union, I decided the only way to get a lick of that sweet brass Ring Pop (it's a lollipop without a stick you know?) was to set out on my own. Of course with a 3rd grade education and no capital to finance my venture, most of my options were limited, so I decided to begin at the bottom: Recycling.

Thanks to Captain Planet (ok, not really) the three R's (Recycle, Reduce, Reuse) were just coming into vogue at this time in my childhood and to assist in saving the planet, grocery stores began installing Recycling Machines for aluminum cans that dispensed cash rewards. Two cans would get you a nickel, but I would have paid a nickel myself just for a chance to operate those mechanical wonders. They were awesome!

They were set up like a reverse soda machine: First you pushed your uncrushed aluminum cans through the rubber flap, next you waited to hear the sweet sound of metal being mangled and finally you pushed the "Pay Me Now" button that dropped your earnings to you in 5 cent increments, just like a slot machine!

Eventually they paid out with printed vouchers you had to take into the store to redeem, but I always preferred the slot machine feeling of the original system. Speaking of slot machines, the area around the recycling apparatus usually smelled just like a dingy, beer soaked Casino carpet (Ewwwww...).

To fund my upstart recycling business I hassled my neighbors for old cans, being careful not to let them in on the bounty that could have been theirs if they but collected the cans for themselves. I also encouraged the increased consumption of carbonated beverages amongst my family and friends, offering ever so generously to dispose of the empty cans for them. To my recollection I never gave into the temptation of Dumpster Diving, but maybe it was such a horrible memory I've blocked it from my mind. Unfortunately the Save The Environment trend didn't last long causing supermarkets to phase out the recycling machines, leaving me with garbage bags full of cans and nothing to show for 'em. Well, I did have enough to buy a few low-grade fireworks from the ice cream man, but never the saver I was in need of a new source of revenue.

Being a resilient youth, I managed to talk my friend, let's call her Kristie, into partnering with me in the age old business of roadside liquid refreshment distribution aka The Lemonade Stand. Wanting to be with the times, we decided to sell the kid favorite Kool-Aid and soon set up shop on the corner of Kristie's street.

It was this day that I learned the importance of having similar business goals with your partners. My purpose was to earn enough to buy a handful of this cool bubble gum at 7-11 that came with temporary tattoos my friends and I called "rub-ons", so maybe $1.50. Kristie and Co. on the other hand were wanting to fund a trip to the movies, so like $10.00. Unfortunately, greed got the best of her.

Armed with folding card table, paper sign and a pitcher of ice-chilled Kool-Aid we raked in the dough that hot summer day, a lucrative business indeed. But about an hour into work day one of the neighbor boys, Chris, came to Kristie and walked her back to her house where she said she was gong to, "put the money in safe place". Well that safe place ended up being her bedazzled purse I soon came to find, as she and the neighbor boy blasted past us on their bikes. Trusting youth that I was, I thought she had just given up and that it was time to close up shop. Imagine my surprise when I got back to her house after lugging the card table down the street and her Mom told me she went to the movies with Chris and the Kool-Aid money!

I explained the misappropriation that had just taken place and her Mom compensated me with the $1.50 I had worked for, although obviously I deserved more. As you can imagine it was no surprise when years later she was busted by her roommates (one of whom I was dating) for writing bad checks to pay her part of the rent, some people never learn.

Soon after I gave into the early 90's speculation mentality of the comic book world that promised to someday provide enough cash upon resale to purchase your own small country or at the very least one of the Hawaiian islands. I dragged my dad to comic book auctions where I bought copies of Peter Parker, The Spectactular Spider-Man #1 and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8 (where Spider-Man gets his black costume) among others that I still have to this day. These things were going for $50.00 or more at the time and you know what their worth now? In the words of Kuni from the cult-classic film UHF, "Nothing! Absolutely Nothing! Stupiiiid! Your so stupiiiiid!".

That's not entirely true, their worth about what I paid for them, but no comic shop would buy them from me at the time for more the 50% their value and I'd be lucky to get a buyer on ebay these days. The industry has changed so much that people will only buy "valuable" comic books if they are "graded" by special company and sealed in hard plastic, never to be touched (or read for that matter) ever again. From this experience I learned that immediate satisfaction is where it's at for me and that I'm just not cut out for the futures market (whatever that means). For those of you who were not some form of nerd in 1993 and can't relate to this short section of the article, my apologies. At least arachknight1979 knows what I'm talking about, WORD UP! (Does using the phrase Word Up make me a Retro-Douche?)

After being stomped by my beloved comic books I pretty much gave up on owning or operating my own business and went to work for various corporate versions of "The Man" even going so far as to work for "The Mouse" at one point, which may be even more degrading now that I think about it. It doesn't mean that I've stopped dreaming though.

I still believe that someday KFC's hormone fueled chickens will revolt and take control of the Colonel's corporate headquarters, dispersing the secret of the 11 herbs and spices to the wind and opening up a hole in the retail fried chicken market allowing me to introduce Hoju's Famous Double Fried Red Pepper Chicken to the world. You'd visit my chain of Ho-Chick's Double Fried restaurants, wouldn't you?
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