This summer, it seems to me that the roadside lemonade stand phenomenon has really caught on. The booths and card tables are everywhere, staffed by sweat-sheened elementary school shopkeepers waving signs and jumping up and down, in the often-futile attempt to lure motorists to the shoulder.
We can only guess the reason for the proliferation – a lack of amusement in the never-ending heat? Allowances have dried up? Camp is over? Parents are desperate? Surely these young residents would much rather be inside with their video games, right? It’s a real puzzle, but a pleasant one.
My dog and I have taken up the habit of visiting as many lemonade stands as we can, and I have decided those of us who are really worried about the future of small business in America should see this fledgling enterprise as an educational opportunity for every kid who has the optimism and industry to set up a table.
On my street, we have a number of children so determined to make a little ice cream money that they deliver your lemonade to the door, confident they won’t be turned away (they are not.)
Recently Phoebe and I were returning from a walk near a local pond, overheated as usual from about 20 rounds of tennis ball, and drove by such a setup, the younger sister waving the sign, the big brother manning the cups and pitcher. We slowed down and stopped a little ways down the road, and I peeled myself out of the seat.
The little girl said, a little mournfully, “Well a lot of people look, but nobody stops.”
This, by the way, was premier, top-shelf lemonade, with ice, astoundingly topped with a real piece of lemon, worthy of the Barefoot Contessa. If you drove by, you missed a real treat.
I just got a glimpse of Dad, lurking out of the way behind the glass of the front door. He prompted something, sotto voce, and the two thanked me for my business and wished me a great day. Now how often does that happen?
Just a couple days ago, I braked again for a couple of boys standing in the full sun. It was about 90 in the shade.
I didn’t even need to get out of the car – one passed me a cup, this time pink lemonade, and again I received a polite thank you, as well as the cool, and very welcome, pick-me-up, sloshing with hand-hacked ice. I’m getting to be a connoisseur. Not bad for a buck.
So I was thinking about the skills I came to appreciate, growing up as the child of a small business family – skills every lemonade purveyor is no doubt learning, even as the cars pass them by and the sun beats down.
We can list the most obvious easily – the value of good and consistent customer service, and providing a good quality product so your customer will return. Math skills are really worth something. Uncomfortable working conditions can really make your life hard, but they also make you more empathetic and creative. Clean clothes never hurt.
Teamwork and courtesy can help a business survive, even in adverse times.
But here are some other stops along the learning curve, perhaps even more valuable to remember in life: there is the hope that something good will happen, faith that even if you get one customer, you have gained something valuable.
There is the satisfaction that you did your best and persevered, even if you are one dollar richer than you were yesterday and your best customer was your dad. I wonder how many successful Americans started out with a cooler and a table under a tree.
We wish all of our children the best in a tough world. Attitude is everything.