Grown-Ups Fight for Children’s Right to Sell Lukewarm Lemonade

Two months ago, the Guffey family set up a lemonade stand in a Denver park. Six-year-old Ben manned the cash register. Four-year-old William recruited customers. Two-year-old Jonathan sampled the product.

Then the police showed up, telling the boys they needed three separate permits for their stand. William offered them some lemonade before bursting into tears. Ben hid. “I put my hat over my face,” Ben, now 7, said. “I didn’t want to see anyone.”

The incident spurred their mother, Jennifer Knowles, into action. She has since founded advocacy group Lemonade Stand Mama, started a petition to change local laws and been interviewed on national TV. She hopes to publish a book. “I want to make it safe for our kids to have lemonade stands without breaking the law,” she said.

Reports of kids’ lemonade stands being shut down for breaking local health or permitting laws have long left grown-ups feeling sour. Now, a growing movement of adults is fighting back.

A libertarian nonprofit in Missouri has mapped reports of shut-down stands to raise awareness; its litigation director says lemonade stands are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

A Texas-based youth-entrepreneurship nonprofit, Lemonade Day, is lobbying local health departments to change regulations. And a drink maker has offered to reimburse young offenders for up to $60,000 in lemonade-stand permits and fines.

“We should give children a few years to experience a free market and the joys of entrepreneurship before they feel the crushing weight of the government come upon them,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a Utah-based libertarian think tank.

The institute advocated for a Utah law, passed last year, that prohibits local authorities from requiring minors’ businesses to have permits or licenses. Mr. Boyack said people aren’t aware of the pervasiveness of the lemonade-stand issue and plans to spread the word at a conference of conservative organizations in October.

A map created by the libertarian Freedom Center of Missouri includes more than two dozen reports from around the country over the past decade of what it calls “the government war on kid-run concession stands.” Most involve lemonade stands.

The enemy, activists say, is a hodgepodge of local rules and regulations. Among those encountered by Steven Gordon, president of Lemonade Day: You need three sinks on site. Minors can’t accept money. Stands must have three walls.

Don’t even think about selling cookies unless they’re commercially packaged.

In June, Kraft Heinz Co. , owner of the powdered lemonade brand Country Time, pledged to pay the permitting fees and fines of kids busted for selling lemonade.

A video promoting the pledge features a group of suited lawyers who have the serious expressions and crossed-arm poses often seen in commercials for slip-and-fall law firms. It calls the force “Legal-Ade.”

In the video, one suited lawyer downs a lemonade and crumples the plastic cup. “Tastes like justice,” he says.

Photo: Knowles Family