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Dunedin neighbor is sour on boy's lemonade stand (w/video)

T.J. Guerrero, 12, sells a lemonade to a repeat customer, truck driver Dan Wright, who is working on a construction project nearby. “He’s willing to work,” Wright says.
Published Aug. 26, 2014

DUNEDIN — It seemed like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. T.J. Guerrero served cookies and strawberry Country Time at his lemonade stand with a wave and a smile.

The 12-year-old had tested various locations and hours of operation before settling on 3 to 7 p.m. at Patricia Avenue and San Salvador Drive. He got a neighbor's permission to pitch a homemade yellow sign in the grass and sell his fare from Tupperware on a white card table.

"It's all about profit," said T.J., who has paired his lemonade earnings with lawn-mowing cash for an iPod, snacks, his cellphone bill, trips with his grandfather and dinners with his mother.

But the boy's entrepreneurial spirit has rankled at least one neighbor, who has emailed City Hall at least four times in two years and asked law enforcement to shut T.J. down.

Doug Wilkey contends that the Palm Harbor Middle School student's year-round operation is an "illegal business" that causes excessive traffic, noise, trash, illegal parking and other problems that reduce his property values.

"Please help me regain my quiet home and neighborhood," Wilkey, 61, wrote.

"We're not in the business of trying to regulate kids like that; nor do we want to do any code enforcement like that," said Dunedin planning and development director Greg Rice. "We are not out there trying to put lemonade stands out of business."

It's unclear how many hours government agencies have dedicated to the rancor.

According to Dunedin records, Wilkey contacted city commissioners in May 2013 and followed up in October, then again in March and June this year.

T.J. lives four doors down from Wilkey but places his stand on the shaded sidewalk in front of Rodney Shrode's corner lot home next door to Wilkey's.

Wilkey wrote that T.J's friends made noise as they lingered near the stand with their skateboards. The boys used profanity, threw rocks and debris that Wilkey had to pick up before mowing, and set off fireworks that scared his dog, he said. Once, a child accidentally ran his bicycle into the back of Wilkey's parked truck, damaging it.

Wilkey also said T.J.'s customers park in front of his home, an assertion that T.J. and Shrode deny.

T.J. said his longest line ever was five people. At least two neighbors said customers are allowed to park in their driveways.

"The city could possibly face repercussion in the event someone became ill from spoiled/contaminated food or drink sales," Wilkey wrote in one email.

"If this were a once a year event by a couple kids to earn a little money for a holiday or something, I would not have a problem with it," he said in another. "I am very worried about the value of my home, which is why I built in a residential area, not a business area."

An increasingly frustrated Wilkey, who declined to speak with the Tampa Bay Times, wrote this summer that the stand was back "AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!"

A Pinellas County sheriff's community police officer has been out at least twice in an attempt to defuse the conflict.

Deputy Wayne Gross polled neighbors and found that they were fine with the 10 to 30 customers T.J. said he sees daily and were baffled that anyone complained.

"I had one when I was a little kid. We all did," said Vincent Titara, 24. "I think it's cute."

Because of Wilkey's complaints about his friends, T.J. goes it alone, happily conversing with customers who stop for $1 cups of lemonade and 50-cent cookies. He sprints between his stand and the windows of paused drivers like a seasoned fast-food worker, scooping ice from a cooler into red plastic cups.

Repeat customer Dan Wright, a truck driver working on a project nearby, had T.J. fill up his Gatorade bottle.

"I tried the strawberry before and it's perfect," he told T.J., removing his hard hat and wiping his brow. "That's what it's about. He's willing to work."

T.J. said he's not deterred by the conflict. Rather, he's counting the months until he turns 14.

Then he can apply for a bagger position at Publix.

Contact Keyonna Summers at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. Follow @KeyonnaSummers.

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