UPDATED: Local Businesses Adjusting to Concord’s ‘Bottle Ban’
After a new bylaw took effect with the start of the New Year, local businesses have resolved not sell single-serving bottled water. But that doesn’t mean they like it.
Editors' Note: This story was updated Jan. 9 to correct a reporting error.A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Stephanie Stillman, executive director of Concord's Chamber of Commerce, told the Globe the Chamber would support efforts to repeal the water bottle-banning bylaw.
On the third day of 2013, the third day after Concord’s revolutionary water bottle bylaw took effect, a few local business owners and store managers reported inspectors making the rounds and checking their shelves for the new contraband: Non-sparking, unflavored drinking water in single-serve PET bottles of 1 liter or less.
At shops like Crosby’s Marketplace and the Trail’s End Café and Corner Store, they were ready for it. Shelves that formerly held single-serving bottled water had been repurposed and stocked with alternatives, a begrudging compliance with the town’s new law, which was approved at Town Meeting last spring, upheld by the Attorney General’s Office and took effect on Jan. 1.
“We will cooperate with the law, but it’s not a law we support,” said John Cummings, the store manager at Crosby’s on Sudbury Road.
In preparation for the bylaw, Crosby’s removed banned bottle inventory that covered the equivalent of a six-foot section of shelving, from top to bottom. It’s been replaced by more 1.5 liter- and gallon-sized plastic water bottles, as well as a few reusable bottles stocked on the shelves and displayed in the front of the store, Cummings said.
Crosby’s maintains a large selection of flavored, sparking and larger-than-one-liter bottled water. Under the bylaw, local businesses are able to sell drinking water in all kinds of plastic bottles that contain more than 1 liter, as well as sparkling and flavored water in plastic bottles of any size.
Over at Concord Provisions on Thoreau Street, store manager Stacey Ristuccia said the shop will adapt to the new bylaw by ordering more single-serving glass water bottles. But she feels that's an imperfect adaptation.
According to Ristuccia, glass bottles will be more expensive for customers and less profitable for merchants. There’s that, and she expects more glass bottles will mean more broken glass on the sidewalks by recycling bins.
A group known as Concord Residents for Consumer Choice has submitted a petitioner’s article to repeal the bylaw for the warrant of April’s annual Town Meeting, and Elizabeth Akehurst-Moore, owner of the Trail’s End Café and Corner Store, said she’s supportive of that effort.
“I don’t believe by opposing this we’re being evil,” said Akehurst-Moore. “I think it’s sensible. I’m not opposed to the environmental intent, but I think this is counter productive in many ways.”
For one, Akehurst-Moore said, the removal of single-serving bottled water from the shelves limits the options available to people passing through town, and could result in more purchasing of sodas, juices, sports drinks and less healthy alternatives.
Akehurst-Moore and others are also concerned about the potential financial impact of the bottle ban on local businesses. One worry is that Concord residents will patronize businesses in bordering towns to pick up their bottled water and possibly do some of their other shopping there, as well.
“It’s still a major fear,” said Cummings, the store manager at Crosby’s. “The loss of the individual bottles we could handle, but the loss of customers who spend $150 to $200 a week – that’s my fear.”
While it’s still early to make a definitive call, the only Acton business reporting an early uptick on bottled water sales is Tedeschi’s, where the storeowner Mike Abboud said the impact was almost immediate.
“I felt it,” Abboud told Acton Patch, saying bottled water sales increased 20 to 30 percent on Jan. 1. “The 24-packs and gallons are going like crazy.”
Another concern among merchants and opponents of the bottle ban its impact on tourists. To that end, Stephanie Stillman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, told The Globe the chamber plans to distribute free bottled water to tourists from its Visitor Center.
In a follow up conversation, Stillman told Patch she'll survey Chamber members before taking any possible postion on the bylaw.
But supporters of the bylaw counter those concerns by saying there are other options, and promoting those options could help mitigate the affects of the bottle ban.
According to Jill Appel, the Concord On Tap campaign manager, the Camelbak initiative is meant to support local businesses and follow through on a promise bottle ban supporters made at annual Town Meeting last year. The Concord On Tap bottles, which arrived in December, were a one-time order.
Stay tuned to Concord Patch for continuing coverage of Concord’s revolutionary bottle ban. We’ll have stories featuring supporters and exploring other angles in the days ahead.