For Maleah King, 11, and Milan Keith, 10, cousins, coming up with an idea for a lip gloss business was easy. What would be difficult would be figuring out how to fund the business venture that the two Richmond elementary school students thought would be the jump-start to becoming entrepreneurs.
The price tag to do so varies, depending on where you look. Some influencers on YouTube claim anyone can start a lip gloss business for under $100. Other business websites say a starter kit for a lip gloss business can cost upward of $1,000.
Either way, that’s not money that kids just have lying around, and Maleah and Milan’s grandmother, Myra King, wanted them to work for it.
“We can work for ourselves and not have to work for other people,” said Milan, the 10-year-old, in an interview. “And people can’t boss us around, even though I know that’s how it’s supposed to go.”
To fund the business venture, last summer the girls decided to start with something easy, and a product they knew people would crave in the hot summer month of June: lemonade.
The business started outside of their house at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and 23rd Street, right across the street from Church Hill’s Union Market.
The girls ordered all of their supplies from Amazon last year. At first, they just had pitchers and plastic cups, charging $2 per cup.
With the help of their grandmother and Maleah’s sisters, Kimyrie King, 13, and Zeyanie King, 10, they grew the lemonade business into a full restaurant where they sold nachos and hot dogs, too.
They also eventually upgraded from pouring different-colored lemonades from pitchers to jugs. And it seemed that most community members had rallied around the girls’ lemonade stand that sat right outside the steps of their home.
Between balancing virtual school and running a business they wanted to see expand, the four girls found that running a full lemonade stand wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be.
On the hottest days, the girls found themselves wanting to give up completely on the business. On the very first day of business when they set up the table, it fell through, the pitchers of brightly colored lemonade falling down on the cement with it.
People posted all over social media about their business, called “4k Lemonade,” in hopes to get more people outside of Church Hill to support them financially. They made sure to make it outside every day, even on days where they said it was too hot and they didn’t feel like selling anything.
The only time they didn’t sell lemonade was if it rained, or if it was too cold outside.
“We didn’t really think the lemonade would go like it did,” said Myra, their grandmother. “But then everybody started liking it. Everybody was like, ‘Wow, the kids are out here working.’ And you don’t see that no more.
“I’m proud of them because they juggle school, work, dance class … whatever they need me to do for them, I’m going to do.”
But then on April 27 — 10 months into their business venture — a Richmond police officer and someone from the Virginia Department of Health stopped by the stand, but they weren’t there to buy lemonade.
Instead, they told the girls that they had five business days to obtain a business license, and the same amount of time to file any excise taxes from the revenue they made.
Turns out, selling food requires a health permit, and selling anything for nearly a year requires a business license — and tax payments.
It was the end of a nearly yearlong streak of running a youth-led business. They haven’t sold anything since.
“People just like to hate,” said Zeyanie, who found herself upset at the news of them being shut down. But at the same time, the girls had been working hard between their normal lives and running a business.
There are a lot of bureaucratic requirements that can keep young entrepreneurs from keeping small businesses open, especially when it comes to selling food.
At the lemonade stand, according to a spokesperson from the VDH’s Richmond and Henrico County Health Districts, the unlicensed business also sold nachos and hot dogs, which can cause food-borne illness if not taken care of properly.
But the shutdown wasn’t bad news for all the girls.
“I know this might sound bad, but I was a little relieved,” Kimyrie said. “Not that we were getting shut down, but because I needed a little break. I don’t think it’s going to be long term of us getting shut down. … Grandma said we would get a license pretty soon.”
But as 4k Lemonade caught the attention of a number of community members in the East End, it also caught the attention of Thelburt Williams, who runs the College Food Network, a Richmond-based organization that helps small food businesses expand their products and transform them into products that can be sold on shelves.
“It’s hard for people to start food businesses because there’s a lot of red tape,” Williams said. “In order to get kitchens up to code, it’s going to take thousands of dollars, and I think it’s a hurdle for a lot of people.”
But Williams said he wants to help. He hopes to help get the girls up and running again — this time the right way — with a business license and possibly even 4k Lemonade at local farmers markets and in stores in the next month.
And Grandma Myra said she hopes to be able to take business classes to help the girls keep their ventures going.
In the meantime, the girls are ready for their next enterprise.
They have lip gloss kits ready to sell.