New Castle councilman calls cops on boys' cupcake sale

LoHud.com | November 15, 2010
By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy

NEW CASTLE When Andrew DeMarchis and Kevin Graff, two 13-year-olds from Chappaqua's Seven Bridges Middle School, set up shop at Gedney Park on a fall weekend last month, they were expecting a tidy profit.

Instead, the two wannabe entrepreneurs selling cupcakes, cookies, brownies and Rice Krispie treats baked by them for $1 apiece got a taste of cold, hard bureaucracy .

New Castle Councilman Michael Wolfensohn came upon the sale and called the cops on the kids for operating without a license.

The boys' parents are incensed and can't believe a Town Board member would handle the situation that way.

"I am shocked and sad for the boys. It was such a great idea, and they worked hard at it," said Laura Graff, Kevin's mother. "But then some Town Board member decided to get on his high horse and wreck their dreams."

DeMarchis and Graff, along with two other classmates, Zachary Bass and Daniel Katz, had a simple, if half-baked, business plan: sell their treats at Gedney Park for a couple of years and save up enough to open a restaurant.

Their first day was wildly successful, the boys said. They netted $120, of which they invested $60 to buy a cart from Target and added water and Gatorade to their offerings on their second day, the next Saturday, Oct. 9.

After about an hour of brisk business , during which DeMarchis and Graff Bass and Katz were not with them said they made $30, police arrived at their stand and asked them to shut it down.

"The police officer was extremely pleasant. He said he was sorry to have to do this, but that he was following up on a report filed over the phone by a Town Board member," said Suzanne DeMarchis, Andrew's mother, who was called to the scene. "Kevin was so upset, he was crying all the whole way home. He was worried if he was going to get arrested or have a criminal record."

The boys, all of whom had bar mitzvahs this year, had done projects to benefit charities in the community, their parents said. The projects included collecting books for Maria Fareri Children's Hospital and raising money for Haiti earthquake victims.

"These are good kids who haven't once gone to the principal's office," said Laura Graff, Kevin's mother. "This was a very scary experience for them."

This month, after receiving a complaint from a friend of the DeMarchis family, The Journal News filed a New York state Freedom of Information Law request for the police report. The report, received Wednesday, listed Wolfensohn as filing the complaint.

Wolfensohn said Thursday that he called police after asking the boys if they were raising funds for charity.

"All vendors selling on town property have to have a license, whether it's boys selling baked goods or a hot dog vendor," said Wolfensohn, who was elected to the board in 2007 after becoming well known in the community for leading a contentious, five-year effort to build a 9/11 memorial. The memorial ended up in Gedney Park after neighbors of the original location, the Duck Pond, sued.

Couldn't Wolfensohn have simply told the boys that they needed a license, the parents want to know, instead of calling the police?

"In hindsight, maybe I should have done that, but I wasn't sure if I was allowed to do that," he said. "The police are trained to deal with these sorts of issues."

While a New Castle parks use permit requires a $1 million certificate of insurance and a fee ranging from $150 to $350 per two hours, New Castle Recreation and Parks Superintendent Robert Snyder said permits are given on a "case-by-case basis."

"If it's the Girl Scouts selling cookies or the local youth organization raising money for charity, the fee can be waived," Snyder said. "But if Sally and Judy wanted to make money to go to the movies, there might be a charge, and their parents would have to be involved ."

More importantly, the parks department needs to be informed, he said.

"We need to know who is in the park and what they are doing. What if there was work going on that was dangerous?" Snyder said. "But I do understand why parents would think they can do this. People may not be aware that they need a permit."

For 13-year-old boys looking to make pocket money, there aren't many options, Suzanne DeMarchis said.

"I don't get too many offers for babysitting, and we live in a development, so shoveling snow is not an option either," said Andrew. "We were being entrepreneurs , but now I feel a little defeated."