Bag fee faces backlash from Weston community
“People were up in arms about it. ... People were yelling at the cashiers,” Peter’s Weston Market owner Jim Magee said in an interview Tuesday, recalling an incident that occurred shortly after the law took effect in March.
Despite a heavy digital marketing push and public hearings prior to the ordinance’s adoption, Magee said many customers were surprised by the sudden charge and felt they had not been properly notified by the town. Since Magee’s family took over the Weston Road business in 1974, they have never charged customers for plastic or paper bags.
“We kind of felt like we were stuck in the middle, and my cashiers took all the brunt of it,” he said. “It came as a surprise and some customers didn’t like the idea of paying 10 cents for a bag.”
In response, Board of Selectmen members discussed at their April 4 meeting potentially removing or delaying the 10-cent fee to give people time to adjust. Selectman Samantha Nestor said the goal is to transition people away from single-use plastic and paper bags and advised waving the charge temporarily, to give the community time to acquire reusable bags.
First Selectman Chris Spaulding, however, said several initiatives are in the works — including a postcard mailer to each home, townwide posters and additional digital media — to get the word out before revisiting the ordinance.
“It’s not on the next meeting agenda,” Spaulding confirmed Tuesday.
Spaulding admitted communicating with residents has been a challenge, but that he has also received mixed messages about what the community actually wants.
“I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of letters,” he said, with most of them asking to keep both the ban and fee in place. Meanwhile, he noted, others have expressed their frustrations at town hall, thinking the fee was a new tax the town was putting on residents.
“I’d really like to reach out to everyone and get the data (on what people want). ... We put a lot of thought into the ordinance,” Spaulding said.
For his part, Spaulding has provided free reusable bags to Peter’s, town hall, social services and the senior center to distribute to the community, and hopes to contribute more.
“My goal in the end is to get reusable bag in everyone’s hand on the top of their minds,” when they go into stores, he said.
When it comes to keeping regular customers, however, Peter’s owners aren’t taking any chances — they have stopped charging the 10-cent fee.
“We are hoping that it is reversed,” Magee said.
Even if the 10-cent charge became optional, he assured he would not push the fee onto his customers, but does offer reusable bags for $1 each.
“We were forced to by the town ordinance,” he said. “I understand what their thinking is. ... I think their heart was in the right place, I just think it could have been doled out better.”
Karen Magee, Jim’s wife, said at the meeting that Peter’s supports the plastic bag ban and the use of reusable bags, but doesn’t want to lose customers over a 10-cent fee.
Spaulding noted businesses violating the ordinance could become problematic if sustained for a long period of time. “Technically, the ordinance states they have to be doing it (charging 10 cents),” he said.
But right now, Spaulding said his focus is conveying the right information to residents instead of punishing people.
“Our goal is to get the information out there and to make sure there’s no backlash on our merchants,” he said.