Reporting Meghan McCorkell
BALTIMORE (WJZ)—One of the oldest family-run businesses in Baltimore is closing. The owner blames high taxes in the city.
Meghan McCorkell tells why some fear other businesses will suffer, too.
The owner of Santoni’s supermarket says the city’s bottle tax is the reason he is going out of business.
It was a community staple for 83 years.
“I know a lot of people going to miss this place,” said one shopper.
Santoni’s supermarket will close its doors.
“It’s sad that all these people are going to lose their jobs,” said shopper Shannon Ramirez.
Owner Rob Santoni says the city’s bottle tax dealt a blow to his bottom line.
“Had I known a beverage tax was coming down the pike and been kicked in the teeth like this, I would never have invested the money,” Santoni said.
Since the tax went into effect in 2010 Santoni says he’s lost $4 million– about 18 percent of his business.
“We just can’t continue with the bite taken out of our business in sales volume,” he said.
The mayor, a supporter of the tax, says the recession is what impacted Santoni’s.
In a statement to WJZ, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake denied the city was behind the store’s downfall:
“I’m deeply saddened to learn that Santoni’s Supermarket will be closing. Linking its closure to the bottle tax may be a good sound bite, but it doesn’t square with the facts,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake said in the release. “By the supermarket’s own admission, business struggled in recent years, which isn’t surprising given the depths of the nation’s recession and its impacts on local governments and businesses.
“My administration supports small businesses, which is why we worked in partnership with Santoni’s to establish our nationally renowned Virtual Supermarket Program that has provided healthy food choices to low-income residents and drove additional customers to the supermarket. It’s important that we not lose sight of the facts.
“The beverage tax was critical to helping Baltimore close a massive budget deficit without cuts to city services and provided a dedicated funding stream to help secure a historic investment of $1 billion in school construction funds. No one likes tax increases, but kicking the can down the road when it comes to our financial solvency and investing in our children is not an option.”
But Santoni’s isn’t alone.
Officials with the Maryland Retailers Association say grocery stores across Baltimore have seen a dramatic decrease in sales.
“It’s a lose-lose for everybody,” said association president Patrick Donoho.
He says the city should change course before even more jobs are lost.
“You’re losing a core group of businesses that have been in the city forever,” Donoho said.
That loss is particularly hard for Santoni’s 80 workers.
“I’m not ready for them to close the doors. Not ready. But it is what it is, right?” said Tina Kaine, who has worked at Santoni’s for 18 years.
When the shelves are bare, the doors will close for good.
The mayor will hold a news conference Tuesday highlighting the positive impacts of the bottle tax on the city.
The bottle tax was raised to five cents this past July to help the city raise money to renovate schools.
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