Two boys running a lemonade stand in Denver to raise money for charity recently ran smack into the impersonal face of government. The youngsters had been hawking their summer treats without first paying the $125 temporary permit and application fees. They also had the temerity to sell them within 300 feet of a park or parkway — forbidden in that city unless there is a special event. Police quickly shut down the illicit stand. Rule of law preserved, offenders dealt a lasting lesson.
But, if we may be permitted a bit of hometown bragging, Minneapolis has shown a better way for dealing with young entrepreneurs. Jaequan Faulkner, 13, has been selling hot dogs with all the trimmings, chips and cold drinks from the establishment he calls Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs, a makeshift stand in front of his house. Occasionally, Fourth Precinct police have been known to stop by for a dog. Then came a complaint that Faulkner was selling food without a permit.
Minneapolis health inspectors could have forced the closure of Mr. Faulkner’s, but they didn’t. Instead, they helped the business teen get the necessary equipment and master proper food handling and cleaning procedures. Impressed with his diligence, they went the extra mile and chipped in for his $87 permit. (Note: Grown-ups, don’t expect this if you start your own business in Minneapolis.)
Inspectors also put Faulkner in touch with the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, a local nonprofit that helps startup businesses. “Every day I’ve been going home thinking, ‘This young man is the brightness of my day,’ ” Ann Fix, program manager at NEON, told the Star Tribune in a news story.
There’s a larger lesson here than the feel-good story of a kid with the gumption to run his own business and bureaucrats with enough heart to help him. It’s simply this: Rules are important, yes. But what is the goal? To snuff out innovation and creativity over any infraction of said rules? Or to work in partnership with those who have hit a bump, to help them succeed?
Solutions that keep a fledgling business open and help it grow will pay far more dividends than a more arbitrary enforcement mentality. Faulkner’s situation is emblematic of an outcome that government should strive for as often as possible and that organizations such as NEON can help.
It’s especially important with the youngest risk-takers. City health workers could easily have decided they had more important issues than a kid’s summer hot dog stand. But their extra attention showed a young man that government is made up of people — people who want to see him succeed. That kind of attitude can and should be contagious.
Faulkner is thinking bigger these days and wants to get a food truck when he’s, well, old enough to drive. In the meantime, he’ll be dishing up lunchtime dogs from his food stand at 1510 Penn Av. N. We wish him well. And we thank Minneapolis officials for demonstrating a valuable lesson in how to govern with humanity.