The mayor wears a plastic top hat; the doctor is years away from being able to drive; the utility worker is wearing a uniform six sizes too big.
Welcome to JA BizTown, a fictional city populated entirely by 8- and 9-year-olds. It’s part of a summer camp teaching financial and business skills to children and adolescents. Over a week they learn about the responsibilities of going to work, filling out paperwork and paying off bills, all within their very own make-believe town.
“It takes hard work and you can’t be bossy; that’s kind of it,” said Ahana Chandu, explaining her job as mayor for the day.
Junior Achievement has been teaching kids around the country how to start businesses and handle their money for decades. In St. Louis, the local chapter also runs a summer camp, which ends with the kids running the indoor town, off an exit for Interstate 64 in Chesterfield, and earning a paycheck for their labor.
“There’s loads of different ways all the businesses within this town are going to earn a profit,” said Joy Germeroth, the JA BizTown Manager.
The mini Main Street has a bank, city hall and hospital. There are TV and radio stations; a pet shop with stuffed animals — a popular place for the kids to spend their modest wages. There’s also a restaurant that sells fresh popcorn, cookies and soda, where food manager Lyes Boudhane said he knows the concept of a monopoly.
“We’re the best and we’re the only place to eat food in BizTown,” he said with confidence.
The kids had to apply for their jobs earlier in the week. First there were lessons on opening bank accounts and balancing budgets. Then they’re set loose to run BizTown, where CEOs in high heels sign paychecks and accountants in a shirt and tie and sneakers sprint to the bank.
“It’s kind of complicated,” said Davis Rashman, who is running the hospital for the day. “It takes a lot of effort and work, and you have to be on time for almost everything.”
There is still adult supervision in BizTown. Grownups apply a Band-Aid when a child jams her finger. Volunteers from the real-life corporate world offer advice and business strategies. Camp director Karen Muzzy said sometimes the young ones come with ideas the adults had never thought of.
Along with sparking an interest in entrepreneurship, Muzzy said she hopes kids also come away with an appreciation for everything their parents do to support them.
“And then enjoying it while they’re doing it because some jobs in the future may not be as fun as our job here,” she said with a laugh.
By the end of the day, the boys have loosened their ties and the girls have kicked off their heels. JA BizTown isn't all that different than the real world.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney