Sipping Sweet Success: The 9th Annual Alaska Black Business Expo
The atrium at the Anchorage Museum hosts the 9th annual Alaska Black Business Expo.
Double A’s Lemonade Stand is near a turning point. The co-founder of the business—one of the eponymous As—will soon step away. To continue selling packaged refreshments in Anchorage and, in the long term beyond Alaska, the organization must fundamentally restructure. And, at the same time, both As have high school homework to finish.
Amiyah Hanson was 12 when she started selling homemade lemonade in 2017 with her sister Aaliyah. Now she’s 18 and looking forward to attending college out of state.
“It’s good to have this to fall back on. It’s been great for my college applications,” Amiyah says.
The sisters told their story last weekend at the 9th annual Alaska Black Business Expo, held at the Anchorage Museum. They got their start thanks to Lemonade Day, a national nonprofit that supports youth entrepreneurship using the archetypal children’s enterprise.
The Hanson sisters began selling lemonade made with their uncle’s recipes, sharing some profits with charity while spending some on travel for themselves. They soon obtained a business license and, instead of asking for donations, they set prices. They also adopted a rather unusual package: a 15-ounce plastic pouch.
At first, Amiyah recalls, they filled cups from a pitcher, and they tried bottling the lemonade before discovering the pouches via social media. “Everybody really loved the pouches more than the cups and bottles,” she says. “We changed it up quite a bit to see what people were tuning in to, and the pouches were a good fit.”
The clear plastic container vividly shows off six colorful flavors of lemonade. The package almost advertises itself, as expo attendees walk around the museum atrium sipping from curly straws.
The expo is only a few years older than Double A’s Lemonade Stand, and it has grown as steadily. “We started out a little small, and every year it grew bigger,” says Sophia Metters, who helped organize the expo.
Metters is the founder and owner of G.A.P., a graduation assistance program. She set up the nonprofit to “keep kids on track” with everything from workforce readiness to helping pay for caps and gowns. The Hanson sisters participate in the program, too.
Nearly a decade ago, Metters helped launch the Alaska Black Business Expo, which combines a vendor market, seminars, and art exhibits. “It is a Black business expo, but we accept all small businesses,” Metters explains. “We really like to support our community.”
Vendor booths in the museum atrium include jewelry designers, healthcare services, and consultants who can assist other entrepreneurs in turn. One of those force multipliers is Umoja Coworking & Incubator, whose president, Jasmin Smith, serves as the expo’s official host.
Presenting and teaching are among the social skills that Amiyah says she has learned through her business experience. She also obtained food handler certification, of course. Aaliyah says her most important lessons have been money management and how to deal with dissatisfied customers.
The biggest challenge Aaliyah faces is balancing her schoolwork while continuing the business after her big sister goes to college. Nominally, their mother owns the business, but both As are integral to running it.
Amiyah says Double A’s Lemonade Stand will carry on in her absence. “My mother wants to branch out and do different things so we can get employees,” she says, adding that other relatives and church friends are willing to help.
And when she’s home for summer break, Amiyah says she’ll work at the stand again. Another sales channel is her stepfather’s taco truck, where lemonade pouches are on the menu. The company also has online ordering for parties.
This lemonade stand is not child’s play. Amiyah would like to see the brand sold widely. “We’ve been trying to figure out a way to sell outside the state of Alaska, which is something we’ve dabbled in before,” she says. “As we get older, we hope that the business gets older and it grows more and we can reach everyone across the nation.”
At a workshop for youth business opportunities at the expo, Norma Lucero, an economic development specialist with the US Small Business Administration in Anchorage, said, “Entrepreneurship is about a dream. Entrepreneurship is about an extension of ourselves, our passion.”
With the support of the Alaska Black Business Expo and other community resources, the Hanson sisters have a good chance of extending their dream as far as it can go.