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PUBLIC OPINION: Local Grocery Stores Voice Opinion on Soda Tax

  Dan Tocci has worked at Dan’s Market since he was 12 years old, providing sandwiches, hoagies and other snacks to the Fishtown community.

  Tocci, 80, also sells soda — and given the new sugary beverage tax, he feels bad for the added price on his customers.

  “It affected everything, because it’s an inconvenience. It’s an extra price they have to pay,” he said. “Soda I was getting for $1.50, now I gotta get for $1.80… everything’s up, and it’s not good for business.”

  While several area grocery stores and delis said soda sales are down, they’re dealing with a tax meant to better their respective communities. Spirit News previously reported that $300 million of the sugary beverage tax would be used for Rebuild, a citywide initiative to improve parks, recreation centers and libraries.

  According to city records, a bill was introduced by Councilwoman Cindy Bass earlier this month, authorizing the use of city bonds to help pay for Rebuild, which will then be paid back through the tax. Currently, however, the city remains in a legal battle with several beverage associations who have opposed the tax since its inception.

  That case will be heard in the state’s Commonwealth court, according to court records.

David Gould, deputy director of community engagement and communications for Rebuild, said the city won’t issue bonds until a final decision is made in the case.

  “Part of Rebuild is built on that revenue stream,” he said. “But we’re confident in our legal team, and also from the decision that was supported by the Common Pleas Judge [Gary S. Glazer] already.”

  Multiple grocery stores, however, still oppose the tax due to declining sales. Don Petzak, general manager of the Richmond Shops IGA in Olde Richmond, said soda sales have decreased 50 percent since the tax was implemented. He added that overall store sales were down 10 percent.

  Petzak, 48, said his store donates $30,000 to local schools yearly and also helps out the community through fundraisers and various events.

  “We’re obviously very interested in education, our children, our community,” he said. “But I think there’s ways of doing it and ways to not do it … I don’t feel it’s the proper way to go about raising that money.”

  Consumers at various stores have been complaining about the increased prices, including at the 7-Eleven on Girard Avenue near Front Street.

  “We do have people cursing us out because of the increase in prices,” said Dipen Patel, 32, manager of the store.

  Patel said soda sales have decreased about 25-30 percent at his store since the start of the year. He acknowledged the impact the tax could have on smaller stores.

  “For the small mom-and-pop stores, it’s a horrible experience for them,” he said. “They’re struggling to keep their businesses alive.”

  One of those businesses is Garrison’s Market in Fishtown. Owner Gregory Garrison, 65, said the tax has led to a 50-percent loss in soda sales.

  “I don’t think they’re efficiently spending the money,” he said of the tax’s impact. “Nobody I know in this neighborhood is sending their kids to these daycares, recreation centers or wherever.”

  “A lot of people are gonna lose their jobs,” Dan Tocci said. “They shouldn’t put a tax like this, it hurts all the small people.”

  “I’m not a politician … I don’t know the ins and outs of city finances,” Don Petznak added. “Tastykake is substantially down, the [representative] here is down 20 percent from last year, and that’s got nothing to do with soda … the effects go through the entire retail environment and go through the community … it’s obviously having an effect.”

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