West Philadelphia ShopRite closing, owner blames soda tax

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The ShopRite at 67th Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia will close in March. Its owner blames the city's tax on sweetened beverages for diminishing business. (Google maps)

The ShopRite at 67th Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia will close in March. Its owner blames the city's tax on sweetened beverages for diminishing business. (Google maps)

A Philadelphia supermarket is closing, and its owner is blaming it on the city’s sweetened beverage tax.

Owner Jeff Brown, one of the most high-profile opponents of the 1.5-cent per ounce tax, said his ShopRite at 67th Street and Haverford Avenue will shut for good in March.

“The store lost about a quarter of its business, most of it in 2017 after the beverage tax was implemented,” said Brown, president and CEO of Brown’s Superstores Inc. “It continued to lose in 2018, and the losses were too great for us to absorb. So we are forced to close the store.”

Once that store closes, Brown said, the workforce at his stores in the city will have shrunk by about 300 since the tax took effect. He said Wednesday that he’s trying to reassign displaced workers to other stores. He says so far, he’s cut back on his workforce through attrition, by not filling positions as people leave.

“This store is closed because of Jim Kenney’s beverage tax, and he’s locked in, and he’s been a bully, and he’s causing harm to the people of Philadelphia,” Brown said.

The Kenney administration issued a statement saying it’s not surprised that Brown has decided to scapegoat the sweetened beverage tax, adding that he hasn’t presented evidence that the tax is what hurt sales.

Brown said three more of his stores are in danger of closing, but he’s trying to come up with alternate marketing strategies to save them.  One was a recent advertisement offering soda for sale without the tax.

“Since the tax took effect, wage tax revenues in the sectors most affected by the tax have been strong, while unemployment claims in those sectors have been down, said Mike Dunn, a Kenney spokesman.  “And the city has been fortunate to have seen the opening of several groceries and markets since the tax took effect – including, most recently, the largest-ever Wawa. ”

The tax has also yielded jobs as it funds an expanding pre-K program. Dunn cited “278 new hires since inception” of the tax.

The store closing announcement comes just days after some of Brown’s stores were running a special on some beverages subject to the sweetened beverage tax. Those stores were choosing not to pass along the tax on those item as part of special promotion.

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