By Daniel Kim
Executive Director, Korean Grocers Association of Washington
For over two decades, the Korean American Grocers’ Association (KAGRO) and the countless local grocers that it supports have been a part of the Seattle community. As small businesses already struggling with an excessive amount of taxes, fees, and regulations, we are deeply concerned about Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed tax on beverages, and the harmful consequences it will undoubtedly have on Seattle’s working class.
Increasing prices on beverages, such as tea, juice, lemonade, coffees, and sports drinks — including diet drinks — will put a strain on families and consumers across the city of Seattle, but this tax will no doubt be most harmful to one group in particular:
Seattle’s minority communities. A tax on beverages is a regressive tax that ultimately puts the highest financial burden on those struggling the most to meet budgets and provide for their families. The economics of integrating a regressive tax are neither fair nor inclusive, and they do not represent the progressive values that attracted many of us to Seattle.
Knowing that a tax on beverages will bring significant harm to local families — particularly Seattle’s diverse Asian ethnic communities — pains KAGRO members to the highest degree. So many of the small, family-owned groceries that will be affected by this tax were built from the ground up by proud immigrant families, and have become bedrocks of Seattle neighborhoods ever since. When stores begin to feel the financial blowback of this tax, it won’t be large, corporate grocery chains that suffer — it will be the businesses built and owned by local families — your local grocer on the corner, and the neighbors you trust to feed your communities.
While a beverage tax of 1.75-cents per ounce may seem insignificant, it adds up — both for families and for store owners — quickly. A similar tax was passed in Philadelphia, and has since caused a massive financial blow to local grocers and retailers.
Reports since the tax has passed show Philadelphia residents driving outside of city limits to buy the same products from stores with no beverage tax. This conscious effort made by Philadelphia residents to shop where the beverage tax does not hamper them is doing immense damage to the store owners within the city. While many owners have had to dramatically scale back service due to restricted funds, others with previous plans to expand or grow their businesses have put any future plans on hold.
Instituting a similar financial burden as experienced by the people of Philadelphia on local businesses and residents will crush countless family, immigrant-owned groceries that make up the city of Seattle. To see a beverage tax threaten to cripple these family businesses is heartbreaking. These stores are our lives.
If Mayor Murray wants to find a way to invest in supporting and growing minority communities, we urge him to disavow the regressive beverage tax. And if Seattleites want to continue building an inclusive hometown that honors the hard work that immigrant families have put in to keep their businesses and communities running, we ask all residents to contact the City Council and ask that they reject the proposed beverage tax.