Storms give youngsters a shot at snow business

SATURDAY'S HERO

February 12, 1994|By ROB KASPER

I won't say this week of forced family togetherness has been trying. I'll just say, if I have to play one more game of Monopoly, Park Place and all its adjoining properties will get torched.

The lousy weather has, however, provided plenty of opportunities for snow-shoveling entrepreneurs.

That is the line I preached to my two kids each morning, shortly after the radio announced that, once again, bad weather had closed the schools.

I told them that if they got outside and cleaned off a few walks in the neighborhood, they would get some money in their pockets.

This part of my pitch did not move them. But when I mentioned the cash could help them own more skateboard videos, more comics, and more hand-held computer games, they decided to give work a try.

Now after several days of shoveling, I would not claim that the fires of capitalism burn within their breasts. But I would say there are occasional flickers. As we cleared one neighbor's walk yesterday morning, for instance, the 9-year-old collapsed in the snow, hollering invectives at his snow shovel. The shovel, he said, was not doing what it was told.

His 13-year-old brother, who earlier had declared an end to his snow-shoveling career -- a career that had lasted one week -- had taken his sweet time getting outside to join the work detail. However, once the two kids got paid, their enthusiasm for this endeavor increased.

They decided to test their skills in the free market. They started ringing doorbells in the neighborhood, seeing if they could find any more clients.

They did not. This did not surprise me, because by the time the kids got their act together, the neighborhood had already been worked by corps of shovel-toting men, anxious to make some quick cash. These men arrive in our neighborhood shortly after the last flake falls, and ring the doorbell of any house with a snowy walk.

The key to success in the snow-shoveling business, I told my kids, was to develop a niche market. In stead of competing with the doorbell ringers, they should try to develop a few personal relationships with select customers. I think bankers call this "relationship banking."

That is how we had landed the first jobs, through connections. The previous weekend, a neighbor had told me that the next time it snowed, she wanted the boys to clear her walks. I told my sons they should make a few phone calls to people they know. Work your family connections, not the doorbells.

I thought it was sound advice. But the kids looked at me like I was from Mars. Making phone calls, they said, was too much trouble. Besides, the 9-year-old had a change of heart. He wanted to drop out of the work force, and play computer games with his buddy.

The 13-year-old promptly announced he was going to dissolve ** the partnership with his younger brother, and join forces with his 12-year-old friend. The last I heard, these two had teamed up either to shovel snow or to read skateboard magazines.

My role in these snow-shoveling undertakings has been to supervise the shoveling and provide the kids with salt or other ice-melting mixtures. I think I have been an OK boss, but a lousy salter.

I ran out of ice-melting material early this week and drove all over Baltimore looking for a new supply. I did not have any luck. Last week I had seen some large jugs of ice-melting solution sitting on the shelves of the Belle Paint & Hardware store on the 200 block of McMechen Street. Foolishly I didn't grab one. I thought buying a big container of ice melter would guarantee six more weeks of winter. So I didn't buy it but winter came anyway. And when I went back to the store, the hardware store guys, said, sorry they were sold out.

In West Baltimore, all that was left at the Hechinger store in the 6500 block of Reisterstown Road was bags of sand. In East Baltimore, the National Lumber store in the 4900 block of Pulaski Highway did not even have sand. And Walbrook Mill and Lumber in the 2600 block of West North Avenue was selling fertilizer as ice melter.

I bought some fertilizer but have been reluctant to use it. I have read how water running off fields covered with fertilizer does bad things to the Chesapeake Bay. And the water running off sidewalks flows into storm sewers, which in turn, flow into the bay.

So until some gentler ice-melting solution returns to the store shelves, our family snow-shoveling team will rely on elbow grease to get rid of ice.

But I am not confident that the future of this snow-shoveling enterprise is bright. The workers are grumbling. If the sun ever shines again and the schools ever reopen, I think we will be out of business faster than you can say "free enterprise."

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