County Apologizes for Shutting Down Unlicensed Lemonade Stand

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In the future, county health department workers should use "professional discretion" when enforcing permit requirements, said Jeff Cogan, county chairman in Multnomah County, Oregon.  He was responding to criticism over the department's decision last week to crack down on Julie Murphy's lemonade stand.  Murphy, shown below apparently unrepentant about her flagrant violation of the rule requiring temporary restaurant licenses at $120 per day, received an apology from Cogan yesterday.

Unlicensed Lemonade Pusher Busted

Unlicensed lemonade pusher back on the street

Murphy was running her lemonade business at the Last Thursday arts festival in Portland, which I assume took place last Thursday, when state health inspectors showed up.  According to Murphy's mother and co-conspirator, Maria Fife, the two had decided to set up shop at the festival because "it seemed like fun." After 20 minutes of fun, Murphy was ordered to cease operations or face a $500 fine.

This turned out to be a bad idea, as the inspectors probably realized almost immediately when other vendors objected and an angry crowd surrounded the two inspectors.  Cogen said the inspectors "felt threatened," probably because they had been surrounded by an angry crowd, but Fife and her daughter defused the situation by tearfully agreeing to leave.  The inspectors wisely also left. 

County officials initially stuck by the inspectors' decision, saying that they had a duty to enforce the regulations consistently.  "When you go to a public event and set up shop," said one, "you're suddenly engaging in commerce.  The fact that you're small-scale I don't think is relevant."

Cogen decided it was, though, at least where the small-scale merchant in question was a 7-year-old girl supported by a pitchfork-wielding mob.  "A lemonade stand is a classic, iconic American kid thing to do," Cogen said.  "I don't want to be in the business of shutting that down."  Cogen said he thought the inspectors had "followed the rule book" but, to his credit, personally called to apologize for the incident and said that in the future, inspectors should consider that food-safety laws are aimed at adults engaged in a professional food business, not at 7-year-old Julie Murphy.  Murphy was said to be "happy" with the outcome, but it was not clear whether she would reopen her enterprise.

The matter may not be entirely resolved, however, because some are apparently contemplating a "lemonade revolt" at the festival this month, a protest that would apparently involve a large number of unlicensed lemonade stands.  Officials said they were not sure what their response would be if that happened, but they might want to tread carefully.  We have already had a Tea Party and a Whiskey Rebellion, so a Lemonade Revolt is not at all out of the question.