Retailers Say Beverage Sales Down As Much As 47 Percent Due To Soda Tax

CHICAGO (CBS) — In the latest salvo over Cook County’s controversial sweetened beverage tax, retailers trotted out numbers to back up their demand to repeal the tax.

Joseph Butera, owner of the supermarket chain bearing his family’s name, said ever since the soft drink tax went into effect, beverage sales have dropped.

“At our store in Norridge, for example, our beverage sales are down 47 percent,” he said.

Illinois Food Retailers Association President Brian Jordan said stores like Leamington Foods in the Lawndale neighborhood have seen customers leave to shop elsewhere, because of the tax.

“One out of 32 retail locations in Cook County has seen a decline in beverage sales, and some have even seen beverage sales decline nearly 50 percent,” he said. “Over 40 percent of the stores have seen a 30 percent decrease in beverage sales, and over 15 percent of the stores reporting have seen a 40 percent or greater decrease in beverage sales.”

Frank Guiglio, district manager for Tony’s Fresh Market, said many of his customers are now shopping outside of Cook County.

“I have never, ever seen the outrage and anger that’s being displayed by our customers in Tony’s regarding this excessive and abusive beverage tax,” he said.

Valley Produce owner Laurie Tenutia said stores not only are losing beverage sales, but other food sales, as shoppers pick up other groceries outside Cook County when they go to buy soda and other sugary drinks.

“They’re not going to come to us just for groceries anymore. They’re going to go make the one stop, and buy whatever they need. So we are going to drop drastically in sales. Our business, because of it, has dropped 11 percent,” she said. “Sadly, lower sales mean that we have to cut down hours for all of our working employees.”

Retailers said the tax should be repealed for the benefit of workers and business owners.

The Preckwinkle administration has defended the tax, citing health and revenue reasons for keeping it in place.

Opponents of the tax on the Cook County Board have introduced a plan to repeal it, and a Finance Committee meeting has been scheduled for next month to debate the proposal.

However, it’s unclear if commissioners behind the repeal effort have the votes to do away with the tax. At least nine votes would be needed, and even if that were to happen, Board President Toni Preckwinkle could veto the repeal plan, and the board would need 11 votes to override.

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