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'Pop Tax' Hurting Small Businesses In Little Village, Owners Say

By Erica Demarest | August 24, 2017 6:26pm
 Michael Moreno, Sr. (left), and his son Michael Jr. have built one of the largest tequila collections in the country.
Michael Moreno, Sr. (left), and his son Michael Jr. have built one of the largest tequila collections in the country.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

LITTLE VILLAGE — Some family businesses may not survive if Cook County doesn't repeal its controversial "pop tax," a group of Little Village entrepreneurs said Thursday.

The tax — which rolled out Aug. 2 following court delays — adds one cent per ounce to the cost of sweetened beverages like pop, juice and iced tea. A 12-pack of 12-oz Diet Coke cans, for example, will cost an extra $1.44.

RELATED: The Pop Tax Begins Wednesday: Here's What You Will (And Won't) Pay More For

"When you look up and down 26th Street, you'll see that local family-run businesses are the heart and soul of the community," said Jaime di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. "This is an immigrant community, and most of the businesses are run by families."

The neighborhood's 110 restaurants and 10 grocery stores have been hard-hit by the tax, di Paulo said, calling it "excessive and unfair."

Di Paulo joined a handful of local small business owners Thursday inside Pollo Feliz, 3120 W. 26th St., to publicly ask Cook County commissioners to repeal the tax.

"My father opened [Taqueria] Los Comales in 1973," said Christina Gonzalez, who manages the Little Village anchor at 3141 W. 26th St. "It was his dream to open a business, and ... he and my family worked tirelessly to help our business grow and make ends meet."

The Gonzalez family now owns 14 restaurants, two-thirds of which are in Cook County, Gonzalez said. She's noticed smaller sales since the tax rollout and worries she'll have to cut back hours for longtime employees as more and more customers forgo beverages.

"Most of our locations are in low-income communities," Gonzalez said. "This is going to be a deciding factor in whether people just bring food from home for lunch."

For more than 40 years, Moreno's Liquors, 3724 W. 26th St., has been a go-to spot for tequila. The family-owned shop currently boasts 700 different varieties — plus an evolving selection of craft beer.

RELATED: 700 Different Types of Tequila In This Magical Little Village Wonderland

Co-owner Michael Moreno, Jr., said liquor sales haven't slowed. But the local workers who'd swing by for a pop (and possibly buy something else while they're there) are all but gone.

"This needs to be repealed," Moreno, Jr., said. "I mean, should we start the Chicago Soda Party and start pouring all the soda into the lake? ... We have issues to settle in the county, but don't take it out on small business owners that rely on these kinds of products."

He continued: "People should not have to be taxed for problems we didn't create."

Alex Munoz is a member of the Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors. He manages vending machines across the state and has had to cut hours for his two part-time employees from 30 hours per week to 24.

"The product is not moving," Munoz said. "The tax was meant to solve the budget problem that the county has, but ... if people are not buying [these items], then the county is not collecting the soda tax."

Little Village Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jaime di Paulo (center) calls the sweetened beverage tax "excessive and unfair."