City Projects

Poor Hannah's Ice Cream Stand

Read the following story by Mary Lincoln, and consider the questions which follow.

When our daughter, Hannah, was 15 and couldn't find a summer job, my husband and I discussed with her the possibilities available in the free-enterprise system.

We told Hannah how Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and others rose from obscurity through a willingness to work and take risks. So Hannah decided to go into business for herself, selling ice cream, sandwiches, and home-baked goodies at a gas station three miles from our farm in Randolph Center, VT.

We owned a five-by-seven-foot outbuilding that could be moved to the site. while Hannah scrubbed and overhauled the interior, I went to the Town Hall to see if she would need permission from anyone other than the gas-station manager.

The Town Manager leaned back in his chair. "You'll need to see the local zoning board and site-plan review commission," he said.

"Thank you," I said. "They meet this Wednesday, don't they? I'll..."

"Then you'll have to see the Regional Planning commission. If the local and regional commissions give their okay, they'll grant a temporary permit, pending approval by all relevant agencies and subject to your getting the necessary licenses."

I began to take notes.

"When you go to the local meeting," he continued, "we'll need a scale map of the land showing boundaries, traffic flow, sewer and water lines, bathroom facilities, and everything else you'll find in the application." The application fee was $25.

"I think this can save you quite a bit of trouble and expense," said the Town Manager, unrolling a large map of the gas station's 17-acre plot. "Just copy this map, put Hannah's stand in the appropriate place, and fill in the application form."

At the zoning meeting, the Regional Planning Commission decided it need not get involved at all. Aha! I thought. This stuff isn't really so bad.

We moved the stand to the site. Then I visited the Health Department on the matter of the brownies and sandwiches--and the water ( to be carried in closed containers from our house) in which the ice-cream scoops would be rinsed.

The field man from the Health Department removed the kitchen-faucet strainer, lit a match, held it to the edge of the pipe for a minute, ran the water, and caught a sample in a sterile bottle. He asked to see the water-storage facilities.

We went to the cellar, and he examined the cement storage tank. The tank is supplied from a spring. It had heavy plastic sheeting on top.

"You'll have to put a more substantial cover on the tank," he said.

My husband, Ed, replied confidently, "If we have perfect water, we won't have to do anything, right? I mean, the agriculture Department tested our water three weeks ago, and it was absolutely clean."

"These old spring systems are usually not able to pass," said the man from the Health Department. "We do a bacteria test for coliform; if you have so much as one bacterium per 100 milliliters of water, you won't be able to use this water as planned."

What we had was ten! A problem. The inspector told us to drain, scrub and rinse the tank, re-cover it ($32), put a chlorine solution in the spring, and call him when the chlorine taste was gone.

While waiting for the new inspection, I filled in the application for a Home Catering License ($20). Our cows refused to drink the chlorinated water; mile production declined.

The inspector approved the new tank cover and took another sample. Result: another count of ten. He hiked to the spring: eight-inch cement walls, a stone bottom, a cover made of roofing material--but the surrounding fence was broken.

"I suggest you mend the fence, give the spring another cleaning and cover it with a heavy-gauge metal roof," said the inspector, by now our ally. "Perhaps there is a spot in this roof where insects are getting through," he mused sympathetically.

Ed found a metal roof 30 miles and $39 away. Another test . . . and a count of 100-plus! We cleaned the spring again, and replaced the fence ($17). One bacterium.

Then one evening Ed discovered a four-inch garter snake swimming in the spring. In the overflow-pipe strainer was a tiny hole, about big enough for one bacterium riding a reptile. Ed removed the snake, replaced the strainer, flushed the system with chlorine, and called the Health Department. Bacteria: zero.

Next we heard about the State Electrical Inspector to whom, it seems, new commercial enterprises--supermarkets, football stadiums, restaurants and, yes, ice-cream stands--must apply. he made sure that Hannah's wiring was done by a master electrician.

Hannah, meanwhile, had located a used freezer and bought a supply of ice cream. It was sold out in ten days. She bought more.

"What a relief," I said to the owner of the general store. "Looks like smooth sailing from here on."

"How does she do with those lousy tax forms?"

"What tax forms?"

"Room and Meals Tax. She has to fill out quarterly statements and pay taxes."

The Tax Department sent an application for a Room and Meals Tax number, an application for a wholesale number, a form for listing Hannah's assets and liabilities, and directions for posting the $1000 bond required for hew new license. Under "Assets," Hannah put "Used Freezer." When she came to the $1000 bond, she cried.

The Tax Department let Hannah put money in escrow to be held against taxes due or in case Hannah should move out of state in the middle of the night. and so Hannah scooped and baked and made sandwiches. her faith in us and the system was restored as she paid off her loan for start-up expenses.

Then one Sunday morning she found that vandals had broken in, smashed the freezer, stolen her change and ten cans of ice cream, and dumped the remaining ten cans on the floor. It took two days to clean up and get the freezer operation.

Hannah's net profit for ten weeks' hard work: less than $200.

All that was four years ago. Hannah's only remaining problem is the Tax Department. She has, at various times, called Montpelier and explained that she is out of business. Yet she still receives notices telling her she will not be allowed to renew her license if she doesn't get on the ball.

Someday, you may come upon a child selling lemonade from pitchers on a folding table. The child will probably not have a local zoning permit, a licensed power source, or approval from the Health Department. Order a big glass. And say that Hannah's mom sent you.

Questions for consideration:

  • Is the situation described in this story reasonable? Is it fair? Is there a difference?
  • Who is at fault? (Is this a trick question? Is anyone at fault? Does someone have to be at fault whenever bad things happen?)
  • If you ran the zoo, how would you do it next time?


Last Updated  1/10/04 by Tony Filipovitch