Adults pelt a boy with snowball rules

June 19, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

POCOMOKE CITY -- Unless 12-year-old Ben Poole gets a sink with hot and cold running water in the small wooden shed where he sells flavored ice, his budding snowball business could be headed down the drain.

Local health officials have told Ben to stop selling snowballs from his 4-by-8-foot stand here until the sink, which is required under the Maryland health code, is installed.

But Bruce Poole, Ben's father, says the stand stays open the way it is. Mr. Poole says his defiance of the Health Department can teach his son what he considers to be a valuable lesson.

"Some of the laws are so goofy you have the right to challenge them," Mr. Poole said. "That's what makes America great."

Under the state health code, a snowball stand is classified as a commercial food business. And like all restaurants and carryout food stands, Ben's shed in a parking lot off Market Street should have two sinks where workers can clean their hands and utensils, as well as a restroom for employee use.

Worcester County health officials agreed to relax the latter requirement after the Pooles pointed out that Ben is allowed to use a restroom inside the Mane Attraction, a beauty salon where his mother works a few feet from the snowball stand.

Edward Potez, director of the Worcester Department of Environmental Health, said he is willing to work with the Pooles to help them comply with the health code. But he said he must insist that at least one sink be installed for reasons of public safety.

"You got to be able to wash your hands," he said. "I stand on that. I can't say 'no' to that regulation."

Unless the sink is put in and a water supply provided for the stand, Mr. Potez said, the county Health Department will continue to refuse to issue the Pooles a license to sell the snowballs.

Last week health officials told Mr. Poole, who built the stand for Ben and sometimes helps him run it, that it must be closed until the requirements are met. So far, Mr. Poole has refused and could face criminal penalties of 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, as well as civil penalties of up to $5,000 for operating a food stand without a license.

Mr. Poole, who works for the State Highway Administration in Salisbury and said he is familiar with government bureaucracy, said he believes the regulations are unfair. "This isn't a McDonald's," he said. "I don't think the law is written for a snowball stand."

He said it would cost several thousand dollars to hook up to the town's water and sewer system, a price he is unwilling to pay. To Ben, for whom the snowball stand is a first summer job, the health rules are perplexing.

"I think they're crazy," he said. "It's just a little stand. Why do we need all this stuff?"

The Snow Ball Shoppe, as Ben's stand is known, is open seven days a week from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and it is popular in Pocomoke City. On a recent hot day, children and adults lined up to buy one or more of the 15 flavors he pours onto shaved ice for 50 cents, $1 or $1.50.

"When it's hot outside and there's no other relief, this is good," said Deborah Taylor, who was at the stand with her two children. "As long as they keep it clean here, I feel safe about it."

Customers buy up to 150 snowballs a day. Part of the profits, Mr. Poole said, go into Ben's savings account with the rest earmarked to help purchase a family van.

The beauty shop let Mr. Poole run an electrical line to the stand, so ithas electricity for lights and operation of the power-driven ice shaver Ben uses for the snowballs. A ceiling fan produces cooling breezes and a small black-and-white television set gives Ben company during lulls.

Health officials say they don't want to force Ben out of business, but they are required to follow the rules.

"We don't mean to pick on the little guy, but our job is to ensure public safety," said Torrey Leonard, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "If somebody gets sick from one of those things, they'll be all over us."

She acknowledged that scrutiny given snowball stands can vary from one county to another. "A lot of it depends on how many inspectors they have," Ms. Leonard said. "It goes on a case-by-case basis."

Mr. Potez said he will meet with Mr. Poole next week in an attempt to resolve the sink and running water impasse. He said he will propose that one sink with two basins be installed, and that two holding tanks be fixed to the outside of the wooden stand -- one to supply fresh water, the other to hold dirty water that leaves the sink. Mr. Potez said he has several ideas for how the water could be heated.

In Baltimore City, where snowball stands are popular summer attractions in many neighborhoods, officials say they are a bit more flexible in how they interpret the state health code.

"As long as hand-washing and restroom facilities are in easy access, we consider that to be sufficient," said Jerry Welch, chief of the Bureau of Food Control. "People can leave the stand and come back. That's OK."

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