As the co-owner of Liberty Liquors, I have been a member of Mashpee’s small business community for more than two decades. Some of our longtime staffers and my younger family members have grown up hauling boxes from shipments into our basement, managing bottle deposit drop-offs and closing up shop late at night. I am very proud of the business we have built, and grateful to be a part of this town.
Last fall, Mashpee’s board of selectmen voted to ban 50-milliliter bottles, known as nips, in large part because they contribute to litter in our town. The board also agreed to reconsider the ban before it goes into effect on July 1 in order for the retail community to offer alternative solutions to this problem.
As I testified at that meeting (along with several other small businesses), such a measure will add more uncertainty for our local economy in a historically uncertain time. This month marks one year of the COVID-19 pandemic. An outright ban is a punitive measure no matter what, let alone amid an unprecedented public health and economic crisis. Does the dealership get a ticket when someone speeds while driving one of their cars?
These 50-milliliter bottles can make up as much as 30 percent of sales, depending on the store. Banning them would cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales that they will have no way to make back. Retailers will face having to cut back hours for staff and even have layoffs.
Furthermore, a ban on 50-milliliter bottles will not clean up Mashpee’s streets. Nips are part of the problem, as are coffee cups, beer cans, food wrappers, et cetera. People who litter will continue to do so with or without a ban—and they will take their dollars to other towns. We know this because retail data show that following the nip ban in Chelsea, there was an immediate, double-digit revenue drop for the small businesses. Retailers in nearby towns like Revere and East Boston saw their sales increase. To this day, the Chelsea businesses have not recovered.
With that said, I fully recognize that litter is a problem in Mashpee. While I do believe that the most effective solutions to truly clean up our streets without doing damage to our local economies must come from our state lawmakers, wine and spirits retailers are doing our part.
Every liquor store in town now has anti-litter education materials prominently displayed in our windows and at the register. Customers will notice the Pick Up Mashpee logo, which is the name of the community improvement initiative that we have organized under. We have printed stickers to put on bags and on the inserts that separate bottles.
These materials remind consumers that Mashpee recycles the bottles they’re purchasing—glass bottles, metal cans, and plastic bottles 1-7. They also remind people that stores like mine accept empty cans for a $0.05 deposit. These materials also include a warning that when individuals litter, they could be actively harming the small businesses they visit by increasing the likelihood that their favorite items will be banned by the town. Our cashiers are also verbally reminding people on their way out the door.
In addition to making a concerted push to remind Mashpee residents about the importance of recycling, on Saturday, April 3, Mashpee’s wine and spirits businesses—employers, employees and family and friends—organized a safe and socially distanced litter pickup. It was the first of several regular pickups that we hope to plan this year.
Dena Rymsha is co-owner of Liberty Liquors in Mashpee.