Every summer when I was little, my friends and I would set up a lemonade stand on the street corner near my house. We would start by asking my Mom to go out and buy us a couple of cans of lemonade concentrate from Trader Joe’s and occasionally we would add in a can of their tropical juice concentrate, which we thought made it taste really good but it wasn’t always available.
Once we had rehydrated the concentrate and put it in a pretty pitcher, we would add a couple of mint leaves from our garden and lemon slices, just to make it look “fresh.” Then, we would bring the fold-out table and a tablecloth out to the corner along with some chairs, a tip jar, the lemonade, and a whole bunch of cups.
One of my friends had this idea that if we put some of our own money in the tip jar to start, people would think that other people had already tipped us and would, therefore, feel more comfortable doing it themselves. I don’t think that ended up working, but it started a slew of ridiculous strategies that we tried in order to gain more business.
The first such idea was to put the lemonade on the corner across the street from my house, where there was shade to keep both us and the drinks cool. The spot also happened to be on the corner of a street which was mainly meant for biking, which meant that we didn’t have a lot of cars racing past us, but we got a decent amount of foot and bike traffic and that was, after all, our main demographic.
The next (and most hilariously memorable) idea came from me. I thought that if we poured ourselves each a cup of the lemonade and walked around the block, talking very loudly about how “good that lemonade from that lemonade stand, two streets over and one street up was” and how “it’s so inexpensive and everyone should go there,” people would come running. I also had the idea that people would buy more if there was a price at the top of our sign that was crossed off and then the real price underneath it. The sign often read, “Lemonade! $1” with $1 crossed off and underneath, “¢99.” These are the kinds of ideas that run through the minds of young business tycoons and they made the experience so much more fun.
Eventually, new tools were brought in, such as a little pink bullhorn for kids that could alter your voice, but we just used it to yell at cars to buy lemonade from us. One day, my Mom bought for me a coin dispenser, which became a central part of the stand for years to come. This coin dispenser was made of red and blue plastic with little metal levers that you could press that would expel a certain coin. It was technically supposed to be worn on a strap around your waist like a fanny pack, but we never did that. The real reason that the coin dispenser was (and still is) so great, though, is that it separated coins for you, which meant that when I went to the arcade, I just had to press a certain lever a bunch of times and suddenly I had a ton of quarters! After all, what is money to a little kid but arcade fuel? Another tool we used to gain our arcade fuel came around the Fourth of July. We would cover the stand in mini-American flags and wave them around. Who could resist stopping to buy lemonade from two or three little boys waving miniature American flags and yelling at potential customers with a pink, voice-changing bullhorn? These tactics brought in a lot of customers and we made a good amount of money as well as gaining a fair amount of weird stories to tell.
The kinds of people who stopped at our lemonade stand tended to be either joggers or people on bikes. The problem, though, with catering mainly to bikers, is that they often do not bring their wallets with them on their bike rides. That meant that they would stop, get off their bikes, pat their nonexistent pockets on their bike shorts and then apologize profusely that they could not buy one now.
Once, there was even a person who realized that they didn’t have their wallet, so they asked to take a picture of us in front of the street signs on the corner so that they could find us again the next time. Almost every one of these people never came back. One time, we had a close-encounter with a person who kept interrogating us on the ingredients of our lemonade and our water source. They would ask, “Is it fresh-squeezed?” and “You know you can’t use hose water, right?” over and over again. We replied “yes” to both of those questions, but the fresh-squeezed one was a lie. We did, however, know that you cannot put hose water in lemonade and at the time it annoyed me to think that this person thought we didn’t know that, but in hindsight, I can only imagine how many kids put poisonous hose water in their lemonade.
Years later, there was one person I will never forget. One afternoon, while my friend and I were selling our lemonade, a jogger came up to us and pulled out his wallet and handed us $20. My friend reached into The Simpsons’ lunch box to get their change while I scrambled to get them a cup filled to the brim.
But, as soon as we started to move, the jogger said, “keep the change” and just left. That $20 became almost half of our revenue for the day and encouraged us to keep going when things got slow because you never know who might come along.
To this day, when people tell me to think of something kind that someone has done for me, I always think of that person.
The old expression goes, “Money can’t buy happiness,” but if not, then what did that jogger pay for?
Marston Scher is a sophomore at South Eugene High School, and interned with The Chronicle this summer.