As Popsicle Season Ends, a Look Ahead


Photo by Nathalie Jordi

One consequence of time's ineluctable passage this summer: a network of tan lines on my back more complicated than Manhattan's subway map. Joel jokes that it looks like a tribal tattoo. We're all a little worried that it's actually burned into my flesh for good.

The other is that we're starting to think about next season.

We've enjoyed the kind of success that, in April, I hesitated to dream of. The two most important things that needed to happen happened: people love the pops, and we still love each other.

Have we made any money? Yeah, a little. Not enough to live on, so thank God for our other jobs (Dave at Good Morning America, Joel as an art director for commercials). But enough to make us dream bigger. We know we can't do another season like this one, or we'll die. So we either go back to the easy life of working for other people--or take a deep breath and commit to growing the business.

Can we try to compete with the Big Boys even if our paradigms for business operate on different planes?

I grew up basically allergic to big business: suspicious, defiant, condescending of its tendency towards soulless cost-cutting and relentless pursuit of one bottom line. And sure, lots of big businesses deserve that judgment. But our business would be more efficient, economical, profitable, and un-paradoxically greener if we enjoyed certain of the advantages that scale offers.

I mean, right now our "sustainable" business uses this fume-spewing, practically armored van to ferry around a tiny amount of popsicles a preposterous distance. They start out as fruit in Union Square, turn into popsicles in Brighton Beach, spend a few nights in Joel's Greenpoint freezer, and end up at the Brooklyn Flea on the weekend. This so-called "local" fruit is better-traveled than some of my own damn relatives. What are we, hypocrites?

So that's why I'm surprising myself by slowly coming around. To thinking that our growth could be a positive thing, and that it's no less noble to run a factory than it is a workshop, provided people, ourselves, and the world at large are treated well in the process. Can you imagine if public schools offered our local-fruit popsicles instead of Good Humor's xantham-gum-and-Blue-No.-2 spectaculars? There's no way that would ever happen if we stayed as small as we are. Or if we cost as much as we currently do.

So now there are all these questions.

Should we move to California, where we're guaranteed a longer season, and thus an increased ability to stay true to our covenant: use local fruit in season? Or stay faithful to New York, the festering womb from which we nonetheless sprung? Should we invest in serious, big-$$$ (to us) equipment like a walk-in freezer or a popsicle packager? (The most aggressive scenario we're envisioning is still miles away from a Good Humor-sized facility, but still, Aaaah!) Should we assign ourselves roles--financial, production, sales--even if, currently, we all vibe off doing a little bit of everything? God help me if I start spending my days looking at spreadsheets. But...someone has to, right?

Process. Where can we find an engineering club--say, MIT's or CalTech's--that wants to take on the challenge of designing an ergonomic popsicle production line that improves our quality and our quality of life? Let's face it--the stuff that takes up a giant part of our time, like hand-stamping popsicle sticks and hand-bagging pops, does not actually make the product better. I look forward to a future in which we can busy ourselves improving problems that require a brain to solve instead of exhausting ourselves squeezing lemons in the wee hours of Friday night, after a soul-crushing week, before the backbreaking weekend.

Where will we unearth better, greener packaging? What is the most efficient, environmentally friendly form of distribution? How big do we need to be to live off this project full-time? A little bit big or really big? Where will we get the money required to get even a little bit big? And how thick and heavy is the ball-and-chain of other people's money?

Is getting bigger even the right thing to do? Like, how many of our current sales derive from people's appreciation of the fact that the popsicles are excruciatingly handmade by the people handing them over? In other words, will our popularity persist if our story ceases to be so obviously quixotic and quaint?

Not that my dreams of our future aren't quixotic or quaint. They are. Will that fell us, or can we try to compete with the Big Boys even if our paradigms for business operate on different planes?

What will the inevitable trade-offs be, and will we make the right choices when faced with them? Will we be able to reach consensus on every decision, as our charter states, or will our future "executive board meetings" become excuses to passive-aggressively mince words rather than laugh, plan, and get drunk together?

I'm going to go scrub my back with a loofah. My sister swears it'll get rid of the tan lines. I fear we'll either be millionaires or living in the gutter by the time that ever happens. In which case I guess it won't really matter what my back looks like.