Soda prices rising in Philadelphia — and some flatly refuse to pay

Yasir Ishmael

Yasir Ishmael

Corey Dorsey has decided to stop drinking soda. 

It all started last week when the Pepsi distributor came by the cheesesteak shop where he works at 53rd and Market Streets in West Philadelphia to make a delivery. They started joking about the city’s new tax on soda and other sugary drinks that started Sunday. 

“And we decided not to drink soda,” Dorsey said. “That’s kind of the resolution for this. You either go with the flow or just stop and no one drinks soda.”

Asodataxday2x600Corey Dorsey, an employee of Gaetano’s Steaks at 53rd and Market Streets, said that beverage sales have declined since Sunday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on regular and diet soda, iced teas, juices and other drinks is levied on distributors. However, many retailers say distributors are charging them more, so they are raising their prices, too. 

At Gaetano’s Steaks, Dorsey said, the price of a 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi has gone from $1.60 to nearly $2, but he doesn’t think his customers have noticed yet. 

“It’s kinda like you come into a store you’re used to coming into and you get a cheesesteak and a soda and you’re just used to hearing the price and you just pay,” he said. “I don’t think it hit as much.”

That’s not the case for Yasir Ishmael who runs a convenience store one block away, right below the 52nd Street El stop. He said that, between the new sweetened beverage tax and the nearly $5-per-pack tax on cigarettes, some of his customers are opting to ride the train out of the city to make their purchases.

“So they continue to 69th [Street], get their stuff and save money. And instead, they used to stop in here,” Ishmael said. “We used to sell a lot of coffee in the morning. Now, because of that, people like to stop somewhere else, get everything, even if it’s not tax included.”

What’s more, Ishmael took a bottle of “mucho mango” flavored Arizona Iced Tea out of his refrigerator and pointed to the corner of the bright orange manufacturer’s label. It reads “$1.00.” 

“These are prepriced,” he said. “So if I sell it at $1.15, which I have to … they [the customers] refuse it.”

Other retailers said drink sales are down, and customers are experiencing sticker shock when they get to the register. 

Finks, a hoagie shop in Northeast Philadelphia, has stopped selling soda altogether, according to PhillyVoice. A sign inside the store said that the shop would “no longer be part of this blatant robbery” of city taxpayers. Instead, thirsty customers can buy a bottle of water for $1.

Philadelphia’s revenue department expects consumption of sugary drinks to drop by 27 percent in the first year of the tax, including people who will shop outside the city limits and those who will buy a bottle of water instead.

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