When a Kid's Lemonade Stand is Illegal

Lemonade stands typically are shut down for violation of permit requirements or health-code standards.

Lemonade stands typically are shut down for violation of permit requirements or health-code standards. Jennifer Knowles


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Children's lemonade stands are technically prohibited in 34 states. Several state legislatures are considering proposals to change that.

Last summer, Jennifer Knowles helped her three sons set up a lemonade stand in their Denver neighborhood. The proceeds would go to charity, while her kids, she thought, would learn about business, entrepreneurship and the satisfaction of making money.

And then the police showed up.

“Two police officers approached us and told us that we needed three permits to operate a lemonade stand,” she said. “We were literally across the street from our house, in our neighborhood, selling lemonade for charity, but even if we were on our sidewalk in front of our house, technically that would have been illegal too.”

It’s a surprisingly common situation. Lemonade stands run by children are technically illegal in 34 states, usually due to violation of health codes, child labor regulations or laws that require businesses to obtain permits. The laws don’t directly target lemonade stands, and in some cases are enforced somewhat loosely, usually prompted by a complain. But the result, from Maryland to Oregon, is the same: officials, usually police, telling children to take down their stands.

“We don’t have any direct insight into why states have outlawed lemonade stands,” said Andrew Louie, general manager of Country Time Lemonade, which launched a “Legalize Lemonade” campaign to help parents learn how to change laws in their states. “Presumably, the laws are in place to protect against legitimate, small businesses running without food safety permits and kids’ lemonade stands are caught up inadvertently.”

Lawmakers in several states have taken notice, including Colorado, where Knowles’ story instantly went viral. The Denver City Council last August changed the city’s local ordinance to exempt “children’s neighborhood beverage stands” from permit requirements. 

State legislators took it a step further in April, passing a bill that legalized not just lemonade stands but all kids’ entrepreneurial ventures, provided they’re operated on an “occasional basis” by someone under the age of 18 and are located a “sufficient distance” from traditional businesses required to obtain permits. Gov. Jared Polis signed the measure in April. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis at the bill's signing (Courtesy of Jennifer Knowles)

The broader scope was important to Knowles, whose story inspired state lawmakers to draft the legislation.

“We modeled our bill after Utah, which had supported all kids’ entrepreneurship, not just lemonade stands,” she said. “In my view, that’s the better way to go. What if a kid wants to sell lemonade and brownies? Under that law, both are covered.”

Other state legislatures have followed suit. Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill allowing children to sell lemonade and other non-alcoholic beverages on private land without a permit. (Abbott toasted the signing with a glass of lemonade.) The law takes effect Sept. 1. The New York State Senate is considering a similar bill, and lawmakers in Wisconsin and Tennessee are having discussions on the matter, Louie said.

Knowles and her sons at the capitol (Courtesy of Jennifer Knowles)

Would-be lemonade vendors in other states have options in the meantime. Country Time’s Legal-Ade fund will reimburse kids for permit fees or fines, up to $300. Knowles, who runs the blog Lemonade Stand Mama, often speaks to parents and families about their own lemonade stands. Some just want to share photos of their kids’ businesses, she said, but others have run into their own legal issues.

“For government in so many states to technically be restricting American values and kids’ innocent lemonade stands is not right,” she said. “It’s important to stand up for our kids and make a difference in this regard, because it just doesn’t seem right.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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