Person calls police on Denver boys' Memorial Day lemonade stand

DENVER -- Being a mom can be a delicate balance—one that Jennifer Knowles knows all too well. She just earned her PhD while raising three rambunctious boys with her husband.

The balance Knowles and parents all over the world face is loving and supporting their kids while teaching them about things like responsibility to lay the foundation for their futures. That was exactly what Knowles was trying to do this Memorial Day weekend in her Stapleton neighborhood.

“We have never had a lemonade stand and the boys thought Memorial Day weekend is going to be great weather, so why not have a lemonade stand across the street in the park,” Knowles said. 

Like many, Knowles made and sold lemonade during her summers as a kid. She appreciates all of the life lessons that come along with the idea.

“I want to teach my kids about being an entrepreneur and having your own business. My 6-year-old got his little toy cash register out that he got when he was about two or three and he was learning how to interact with customers and about customer service,” Knowles said.

He was also learning about the value of money and practicing his addition and subtraction skills. 

All of the money from the stand was going to charity. The boys were planning on donating all of their proceeds to Compassion International.

“We here are very fortunate and we forget that many kids in the world are not as fortunate as we are in Colorado or in the country, and so I wanted to teach them how to donate money to a charity,” Knowles said.

Together, her sons picked a child in Indonesia to help provide basic necessities for, including clean water.

“They picked a little 5-year-old boy from Indonesia with siblings, two siblings, kind of like them,” she said.

For a while, things were going well with their lemonade stand, which they set up in a park right across the street from their house near an outdoor art show.

“They got a lot of people coming and praising the boys and telling them that they were doing a great job,” Knowles said. “That was so good for my boys to hear and for them to interact with people they’ve never met before in a business way.”

But just a half-hour into their business venture, police arrived.

“The police officers came over and they said that because my boys and I did not have permits for a lemonade stand they shut us down and we had to stop immediately,” she said. “My boys were crushed. They were devastated. And I can’t believe that happened. I remember as a child I always had lemonade stands and never had to worry about being shut down by the police officers. I mean that’s unheard of.”

It was a scary experience for the kids and something that Knowles says shouldn’t have happened.

“My 6-year-old he saw the police officers coming over and he ran and he hid,” she said. “My 4-year-old came over and was looking at the police officer and heard what he was saying. He started to frown and then he started to cry. And it made me want to cry because they were so upset.”

Knowles says someone from the nearby art show called police on her sons and complained.

“The police officers, they couldn’t have been nicer, but someone complained about us,” she said. “It makes me sad that someone would do that.”

Knowles started doing some research and found that Utah passed a law last year allowing for child-run lemonade stands and other small businesses to operate without a permit.

She wants something similar to be passed in Colorado.

Denver7 reached out to the permitting department. A spokesperson said there are no rules explicitly prohibiting a lemonade stand, but there are also no rules protecting it.

Communications Program Manager Alexandra Foster said her department does not typically go out to enforce its permitting rules against children. However, if a call is made to police about a certain lemonade stand blocking traffic for instance, the family could be asked to shut the lemonade stand down. She added that temporary stands typically don’t need a permit, but if a stand was set up on a regular basis that it might.

“If our inspectors go to a lemonade stand, it means we’ve received a complaint, and generally complaints stem from high levels of activity or noise that disrupt neighbors,” Foster told Denver7. “So generally, as long as the impact is minimal, we’re happy to let kids have fun in the summer.

She said that the home business permit is generally intended for adults selling foods they’ve grown or prepared from scratch for income.

The closest ordinance Denver7 could find that might regulate lemonade stands is the 2014, Denver city council approved rule that focuses on at-home sales of fresh produce and cottage foods. 

According to that ordinance, sellers of certain products that are grown locally must obtain a home occupation zoning permit to sell and complete a food safety course.

However, the ordinance only applies to fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, eggs and low-risk, unrefrigerated foods such as teas, honey and jam.

Because lemons are not typically grown in the state, the ordinance usually doesn’t apply to lemonade stands.

Still, Knowles wants parents to know what she went through just in case their kids are planning on setting up a stand this summer.

“I want parents know that they need to be aware that if their kids want to have a lemonade stand there could be repercussions like there with my kids,” Knowles said.

Knowles set up a GoFundMe page for her boys to raise the money instead. As of Wednesday afternoon, they were already about halfway to their goal.

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