Cupcake Wars

Bellas&WachowskilemonadeThere is a horror menacing our nation. It can appear on almost any street at any time. It rarely lasts more than a few hours before quietly disappearing, but occasionally, it takes root and grows into a threat to our health and well being.

The brave men and women battling these perilous dens of disease and iniquity are not glory hunters. In fact, they sometimes seem embarrassed when the spotlight shines on them, almost as if they should be ashamed when they shutter another location.

Agencies across the country have been fighting this scourge for years, but they can’t keep up. When one location is shut down, another appears. And this loathsome enemy generally preys on our most vulnerable citizens, our children, but even the most cautious adult is not immune from the perils of a lemonade stand.

Many of us set up a lemonade stand* when we were kids, though most stands lasted no longer than it took to drink up all the stock. A lemonade stand is a child’s first, and in most cases only, attempt at being an entrepreneur. Forbes magazine wrote in 2013 that a lemonade stand can be good training for budding entrepreneurs. Another Forbes article looked at the “inexplicable war” on the stands that included a link to a map that listed the restrictions that states have placed on children’s businesses.

In the past month, Illinois passed a law so that a Madison County girl could sell cupcakes. The young baker, who was 11 when she started her business, was making about $200 a month. But she didn’t have a license to sell her wares and she cooked her goodies in her family’s kitchen. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Madison County Health Department put Chloe Stirling out of business, telling her that she would need to buy a commercial bakery or build a separate kitchen to continue operations.

There weren’t any complaints about Chloe’s business, Hey Cupcake. No one contracted salmonella. No one found insect bits in their treats. The health department turned their sights on Chloe only after a local newspaper ran an article about her. The Belleville News Democrat piece had an “Isn’t it great what this kid is doing” flavor. The health department apparently disagreed.

“The rules are the rules,” a health department official said. “It’s for the protection of the public health. The guidelines apply to everyone.” The spokeswoman then, apparently, looked for a puppy to kick.

The case garnered more than a little publicity. News outlets across the state, and across the nation, rushed to point out the absurdity to shutting down Chloe’s business. The Illinois General Assembly took up the girl’s case and passed the so-called “cupcake bill” to allow Chloe to restart her business and continue saving for a car when she turns 16.

In theory we claim to encourage entrepreneurship, but as if often the case, in practice we do the opposite. It is quite easy to find article after article about police shutting down some kid’s small business. The practice, though, seems to be slowing down, which is good.

The ordeal put Chloe out of business for a few months, though the short stoppage probably did her more good than harm. While she was shut down, Chloe appeared on Rachel Ray’s television show where another TV chef gave her a full suite of kitchen appliances. And a local contractor is working to raise money to build the girl a commercial kitchen.

The cupcake bill allows young entrepreneurs to make sales of only $1,000 a month without having to worry about regulation from local governments or health departments. With all of the publicity and the donations she has received, Chloe may have to consider moving away from the protections of the cupcake bill into the adult business world.

*For our purposes, “lemonade stand” is the catchall phrase for any child-run enterprise.