The Lemonade Stand Effect
I recall as a kid back in New Jersey, my family seemed inspired to be patrons of small local businesses as often as was practical. When there was a new place in town — a new ice cream spot, a new mini golf course, or something else we hadn’t seen before — it seemed that those places received special attention from my family. My kid brain wasn’t sure exactly why. I think it had something to do with what I’ll call “the lemonade stand effect” — that is, sometimes it’s not about how much you want lemonade, but supporting whoever is running the lemonade stand makes you feel like you are doing something good. Usually, the decision to open a small business in my hometown was a big risk. Certain places were cursed by repeated failures, where businesses never survived long before the “going out of business” signs showed up. Sometimes entire strip malls seemed to bear this curse, with parking lots forever barren. My family, however, tried never to ignore those little spots, and I guess it seemed nice to go somewhere and get immediate attention, since there was never a crowd.
The hunger to support small, local, up-and-coming business ventures remains in my blood as an American expat in Morocco. The streets in my town are packed with stores and restaurants. Year round, there is always something new in development. A new clothing store. A new restaurant. A new place for random knick knacks. In addition, the sidewalks on both sides of the street are so stuffed with people conducting their business from tables and tarps that pedestrians typically walk in the street instead, so as not to step into someone’s carefully arranged display of ‘babouches’ (traditional Moroccan slippers) or collection of cookware. Without even mentioning all the people selling fruit, nuts, and vegetables on stands further up the road, to paraphrase Elton John’s The Circle of Life, “There is far too much to take in here, more to buy than can ever be bought”.
With the market so saturated, everything I buy from one person seems like a small loss for the next person. In this competitive climate, it is undoubtably daring for someone to go out on a limb with their first brick-and-mortar business, especially considering the upfront costs involved. I feel pangs of regret each time I see a tiny little business close its doors for the last time, like so many others before it, because I want to see everyone succeed. I hate imaginging people pouring their savings into an idea that doesn’t evidently pan out. Seriously, I get emotional about it. “If only I ate hamburgers,” I lamented as my not-very-well-to-do neighbor was forced to abandon his unpopular ‘hamburkhissa’.
On the contrary, it gives me joy whenever I find something that I need can be procured from a small business or somebody’s sidewalk operation. How many times have I gotten home with my bags of stuff and realized that I forgot something, something I probably could have gotten off the street? I keep my eyes peeled when meandering through the street — because I want to need something from them! Not too long ago, I watched as a few weeks of construction turned a former electronics shop into a one-man-operated pizza place, and as luck would have it, he makes the best pizza that I’ve had in town so far. It’s cheaper than everyone else’s, so I hope his decision to price competitively helps get him a return on his investment. I also observed a new baked goods shop materialize, the only one of its kind on that particular street. I often walk past it to see it looking empty and lonely with so many beautiful cookies on its shelves, and I think to myself how if I wasn’t trying to control my sugar, it would definitely be my first choice for picking up some cookies. I continually hope they will offer something less sweet I might desire on a whim, but can foresee myself probably stopping by in the future anyway, because it’s not about the “lemonade”, it’s about the humans.
Bonus Story: Comrades
I walk through the main area designated for mobile fruit and vegetable booths, where locals gather to buy and sell. Most of the buyers are women, most of the sellers are men. Catching my attention are two petite, olive-skinned boys walking together without adults. I’m not positive, but I suspect they are of poor families despite their clean clothes. There are usually visual giveaways indicating poverty in children, such as a generally frail structure and skin that ranges from somewhat dehydrated to mottled in appearance (a potential indicator of vitamin deficiency), juxtaposed with the treatment they receive from some locals. They walk together as one, connected by one of the boy’s skinny arms which rests over the other’s back in a friendly way. I guess their ages are about 7 or 8.
The boys stop in front of a man who is selling ripe red strawberries and apparently feels generous today; he permits them to take several for free at their request. It is the Islamic month of fasting, but the rules need not apply to children of such an age, so they continue to walk, slowly, while popping little strawberries into their mouths. One of them looks up to find he is suddenly face-to-gut with a middle aged, grumpy looking man with a beard, and awkwardly tries to move around him but it results in a gentle collision instead. The man, who perhaps struggles to notice anyone standing less than a meter tall, swats sideways at the startled child as though he were a pesky mosquito and the boy quickly sidesteps to dodge the blow. I frown at this, recalling the times when adults crashed into me as a tiny child because they were bigger and faster, and at times “came out of nowhere” (though I’m sure they thought the same of me). For a moment, I am seeing the world through the boy’s eyes and wonder if socio-economic status factored towards the snappy response from the older man; I am suspicious and judgmental.
The collision victim’s friend quickly returns to his side and once again places his arm around him, almost protectively, as if to say, “It’s alright.” I’m not sure if they are brothers or friends, but it feels as though their closeness and support for one another is palpable even from where I stand, bringing the smile back to my face — enjoy your strawberries and camaraderie.