The Hazards of Selling Popsicles

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Photo by Nathalie Jordi


When I last weighed in, I moaned at length about how few the difficulties of operating a small popsicle business in New York City actually have to do with popsicle production. Well, guess what's in store for this week? That's right, more moaning. I defy any small-business owner not to sympathize with my plight.

Sunday at 7 a.m., when I drove our ancient van up to west Midtown to pick up dry ice for the Brooklyn Flea in DUMBO, there was a snarl of honking trucks and buses dead-ending at 42nd street, where the New York City half-marathon had blocked all the streets. I had to park illegally, 50 feet away from the cop directing traffic, and sprint the 20 minutes to Times Square, where an underground subway tunnel allowed me to cross 42nd Street. Since I am not a morning person, our dry ice supplier, a Don Corleone type, is used to seeing me discombobulated and bad-tempered, but this morning I was in rare form.

A small wave of syrup lapped up against our car seats. Ye gods. This represented several hundred dollars in inventory, not to mention the hours Joel spent squeezing those lemons.

Clutching 25 pounds of dry ice, I sprinted back to the van. The fact that I was holding what was essentially a portable air conditioner shooting cold smoke out from every direction made things slightly better; the numbness that 20 minutes of close proximity to evaporating carbon dioxide caused my fingers did not.

The van, providentially, had not been clamped or towed. But half an hour later, on the way to our wet ice supplier in Bushwick, the two-gallon container of lemon-basil syrup we'd made for shave ice succumbed to a particularly bad pothole, broke, and flooded the floor of the van.

"Does it smell like basil in here?" my partner, Joel, asked nervously. A small wave of syrup lapped up against our car seats. Ye gods. This represented several hundred dollars in inventory, not to mention the hours Joel spent squeezing those lemons. We barely exchanged words. The van now smelled like basil and boiling rage.

We got to the market late; every week there's another reason. But the first pop I sold was to Keri Russell (star of Felicity, a show I used to love), and a very short four hours later, we'd run out of everything we'd brought--including the sweet-corn popsicles I'd been so nervous about. To my pleasant surprise, people loved them. I knew they were good. I just wasn't sure people were going to trust us enough to order one.

I forgave New York City, in the end. Sure, it feels like I spend more time in that basil-scented van swerving away from kamikaze taxis and listening to staticky reggaeton than I do making popsicles. But where else in this country could we sell a $3.50 popsicle made out of corn and watch people line up joyfully to buy it?

By the end of the day, we'd forgotten all about the lemon-basil debacle, and the skin on my fingertips was starting to grow back. Joel, who'd been initially skeptical of the cornsicle, had supplanted his misgivings with enthusiasm. "Next week," he said, "I'm thinking we do a pop with roasted beet and sour cream."

Oh boy.

To try People's Pops for yourself, go to the Brooklyn Flea in Ft. Greene on Saturdays and DUMBO on Sundays; check their Web site for other locations.

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Nathalie Jordi makes ice pops in Brooklyn along with her high-school prom date and his roommate. Out of season, she writes for the Los Angeles Times, Bon Appetit, and the New York Times.

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