In the Dollar Tree discount store on 2440 Shattuck Ave., the refrigerators once full of soda bottles are now stocked with water. The other Dollar Tree store in Berkeley, on 1284 San Pablo Ave., has also removed its sugary drinks.
Dollar Tree — which sells a variety of products for $1 or less and has more than 5,200 stores in North America — decided to pull out sodas in its Berkeley stores when the soda tax went into effect on Jan. 1, according to Randy Guiler, vice president of investor relations.
“Due to the increased cost from the Berkeley sugary drinks and soda tax, we are no longer able to carry sugary drinks and soda at the one-dollar price point,” Guiler said.
But visitors to Dollar Tree stores can still get a sugar fix — of sorts. The store carries fruit juice, which is not subject to the one cent per ounce tax.
Berkeley became the first city in the United States to pass a soda tax last November. Measure D, which drew national attention and supportive donors like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, passed overwhelmingly with 76% of the votes despite heavy opposition lobbying from the beverage industry.
Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who has been a main proponent of Measure D, was relieved to see the Dollar Tree stores replacing its soda selections with water bottles.
“I’m actually thrilled,” Capitelli said. “I’m hoping other businesses will follow suit, and I hope they replace it with water bottles.”
On Jan. 9, Capitelli first found out the Dollar Tree’s changes and tweeted the following:
— laurie capitelli (@berkcap) January 9, 2015
Those who opposed Measure D — whose campaign spent over $1.6 million backed by the beverage industry — showed little surprise at Dollar Tree’s decision, blaming the lack of clarity in the measure and how the tax adds extra burden on Berkeley businesses.
“There were a lot of businesses coming up to us (during the campaign) saying the price of doing business in Berkeley was already high,” said Roger Salazar, the spokesman for No on Measure D. “Now another tax makes it harder.”
Like Salazar, customers filing out of the Dollar Tree store on Shattuck were not enthused about the removal of soda off the shelves. Although most said they rarely or never drink soda, they were concerned that there are now fewer places where they can buy soda drinks.
“I think it’s weird that people are targeting specific things,” said Cynthia Robinson, a Berkeley resident. “It’s a bit too Big Brother for me.”
Employees at the Dollar Tree shared a similar sentiment. While business had not dropped in the weeks after the removal of soda, Dollar Tree lost a small segment of customers who came in to buy a $1 drink to quench their thirst.
“We have customers who come here all the time for a drink,” said a female employee at the San Pablo Dollar Tree store, who asked that her name not be used. “It’s a bummer for them, and it’s a bummer for us all.”
Seung Y. Lee is a journalist who has previously worked at the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Daily Californian.
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