Teens learn to peddle fruitshakes for profit Young entrepreneurs learning at ballpark

August 08, 1991|By Mary Corey

Kelvin Randall used to sell drugs in Cherry Hill.

Now he sells fruit drinks at Memorial Stadium.

The former paid better, but it didn't bring half the satisfaction.

"Adults respect me now," the 16-year-old says incredulously. "When I sold drugs, the only people who respected me were the people who did drugs and sold them. Now I've got the respect of neighbors and friends and my relatives."

Thanks to the 2-month-old Choice Jobs Program, a non-profit job training and placement organization for troubled teen-agers, Kelvin and 27 other teens are learning the benefits -- and drawbacks -- of being entrepreneurs.

Through a partnership with Flying Fruit Fantasy, the Orioles and ARA-Martin's, the youngsters set up a fruit drink business at the ballpark in June. A $15,000 grant from the Campbell Foundation for Children in Hunt Valley provided start-up money.

At every home game since then, youths have been selling $1.50 shakes in the stands and at four stations. Carrying 4-pound trays, they race up and down the steps with eyes like auctioneers, looking for any gesture that might signal a sale. Over the din of vendors hawking hot dogs, soft pretzels and beer, their voices can be heard: "Fruit shakes . . . ice COLD fruit shakes."

On Monday, when low attendance and cooler temperatures contributed to lackluster sales, Reginald Randolph, 14, of Cherry Hill, tried out a new sales tactic.

He begged.

"Anybody wanna buy a fruitshake? I really need the money," he yelled out in the middle of Section 39.

But even that failed to stir the unthirsty masses.

"You're in the way of the game, son," a fan replied. "Move along."

The purpose of the program is to help youngsters understand the value of work, says Mark K. Shriver, director of Choice, a Baltimore program affiliated with the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "This is a good labor pool. If it's trained properly and placed in the right areas, it could be a real help to the economy."

And while a hot summer has meant serious sweat for the youngsters, it's also brought them plenty of cold cash. In addition to receiving $4.25 per hour, runners get 25 cents per drink sold. A profit-sharing plan is in the works for those who last through the summer.

So far, 16-year-old Antoinne Nicholson holds the weekly earnings record, grossing nearly $200 for 24 hours of work.

But even he admits to pre-game jitters.

"I was scared at first that people were going to laugh at me, but I just blocked that out and went up the stairs," the Cherry Hill resident says.

With money as an incentive, many teens have developed techniques for luring the public to their product. Some runners zero in on the high-ticket box seats first, while others race toward sections that get the most sun.

Jerry Rose wins over customers by pouring on the compliments. "When women come up and buy something, I tell them, 'Thanks a lot. Come again. You're beautiful,' " says the 16-year-old from Brooklyn.

Which brings up what many of these teens consider the perk of their jobs: meeting the opposite sex.

While Jerry boasts of receiving five phone numbers from young women, there's a debate brewing over whether it's professional to "make time" while you're making drinks.

"To me, girls come after this job," says Kelvin. "I met a couple of girls, but I do it on my time off. The other guys talk to girls while they're supposed to be working."

Despite informal training classes and the on-site support of Choice employees and volunteers, some teens have discovered they aren't cut out for sales.

More than 10 youngsters have quit or been terminated since June, while spilled drinks, bad manners and miscounted change have cut into profits.

"At the beginning, we found kids sitting in the stands when they were supposed to be selling drinks," says Vickie Adams, the jobs program coordinator.

She's been encouraged, however, by the maturity some employees have shown. Each teen has a stadium war story -- of being pelted with peanuts, cursed at or called names. During a recent game, one beer-drinking fan is rumored to have yelled out: "Only fruitcakes sell fruitshakes."

But if Jose Canseco of the Oakland A's can deal with being booed, these workers reason they can, too. "I ain't used to being treated that way," Kelvin says. "But I keep my cool. I laugh and smile and walk away."

Other stadium employees have been impressed with the professionalism these youngsters have displayed. Greg Schwalenberg, the leading beer vendor, says, "They're hustling, and they're just as courteous as any of the other vendors."

Similarly, Antoinne's mother, Melvina Moses, has seen a subtle change in her son since he began working. "He talks about it every time he comes home," she says. "I'm trying to go to sleep because I have to work the next day, and I have to hear about flying up and down the stairs and how many trays he sold. I think it's great."

While many teens talk about buying clothes and electronic equipment with their paychecks, Lakisha Brown, 15, of Edmondson Village, hopes to use hers to buy school clothes for her brother.

"I want to help him come out in style," she says. "At least I can buy him a pair of tenners [tennis shoes]."

At the end of the baseball season, Choice Jobs hopes to continue the concession in a local hospital or university, as well as expand the partnership with other companies.

That's just fine by Kelvin Randall. "I've been bragging to my friends about this job," he says. "I tell them: 'I got a real job in the real world. I can do anything.' "

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