West Philly ShopRite near suburban line closing, owner blames soda tax

Steve Tawa
January 02, 2019 - 7:41 pm
The CEO of the chain that owns several area supermarkets is closing the ShopRite store in West Philadelphia, several blocks from the suburbs, blaming Philadelphia's soda tax. The city and supporters of the beverage tax question his motives.

Steve Tawa/KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The CEO of a chain of more than a dozen ShopRites and Fresh Grocer supermarkets in the region, including seven in the city, is closing a ShopRite in West Philadelphia, blaming the tax on soda and sweetened beverages. But the city and supporters of the beverage tax question his motives.    

Jeff Brown says the ShopRite at 67th Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia has suffered a 23 percent loss in sales, making it unprofitable. 

"So on one side, I have City Avenue, where you don't have to pay the beverage tax. It's also maybe four blocks from Upper Darby in Delaware County. This store was harder hit, because there are a lot of choices that are close by," Brown said. 

Brown says only about four percent of the 23 percent loss in sales represents beverages, but he says it's the cumulative effect of customers going elsewhere, in effect, putting all their eggs in one basket. 

"19 percent represents when the people left the city to buy their beverages, they bought all their groceries outside the city," he said. 

He hopes to find jobs elsewhere for the 111 workers there, and also intends to set up ride share accounts with customers to give underserved neighbors a lift to its nearby ShopRite for the rest of the year. 

"And paying for their Lyft to go to our neighboring location, ShopRite at Parkside," he said. 

One critic points out Brown opened a Fresh Grocer in 2017, when the sugary drink tax took effect, at Monument Road and Conshohocken Avenue in Philadelphia's Wynnefield Heights neighborhood, which is four miles away. 

ShopRite customers agree the neighborhood will become a food desert when the store closes in March. 

"It's about location. People need stores in their community. What are we supposed to do?" said one customer. 

A spokesman for the mayor says while Brown "has decided to scapegoat the beverage tax, neither he nor the beverage industry have yet to present any evidence that it has had any impact on sales."

He says several groceries and markets have opened since the tax took effect, including the largest-ever Wawa. He also adds it is "unlikely that the viablity of one product line should be so damaging to a grocery store with a wide variety of products."

Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for the group Philadelphians for a Fair Future, which supports the programs funded by the sweetened beverage tax, said "Jeff Brown has blamed the soda tax for everything but climate change."