My family has owned the Southern Inn restaurant in Southwest Philadelphia for more than 30 years. I inherited it from my mother.
Politicians in City Hall talk about how much they want to help minority-owned businesses like mine grow and our neighborhoods succeed, but Mayor Kenney and City Council have imposed a devastating 1.5-cents-per-ounce beverage tax that is crushing my restaurant and taking money out of the wallets of my customers. Many of them live paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to pay more.
My business operates on very thin margins. Sales of soft drinks, iced teas, and other beverages helped keep my restaurant profitable — especially in my neighborhood, which still hasn't recovered from the last recession and where eating out is a luxury.
Since the tax went into effect in January, my drink sales have dropped by more than 20 percent, and I have been forced to drastically increase prices for beverages. We simply can't withstand this decrease in sales.
Worries about having to close my business are keeping me up at night, and I'm considering taking up a second job to make ends meet.
I support pre-K and the other initiatives the mayor says he is funding because of this tax. But poor and working-class communities like mine shouldn't have to pay higher taxes to get essential services.
The beverage tax isn't the only hit from City Hall my business is taking. The city just increased our water rates by more than 10 percent, and we are paying higher real estate taxes as a result of property tax reassessments.
These new taxes and fees may not seem like much to people in Center City, but they are crushing working-class families and small-business owners who live in Philadelphia's neighborhoods.
While family-owned businesses like mine are being asked to pay higher taxes to support rehabilitated recreation centers in Southwest Philadelphia, the city is planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on projects that benefit Center City — including an expansion to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a new park over I-95. Those projects won't require a new tax. The mayor found money within the existing city budget to benefit wealthy communities that already have resources.
I'm hopeful that the city will listen to its small-business owners and working-class communities.
Lawmakers in the Chicago area listened to the will of their constituents and overwhelmingly voted several weeks ago to repeal a similar beverage tax only two months after it went into effect.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners axed the tax after a sustained and vocal outcry from residents and businesses about the economic damage the tax was inflicting on family-owned supermarkets, corner stores, and restaurants. And the commissioners were understandably afraid that voters would remember this tax during an upcoming election.
While Philadelphia's next city-wide election isn't until 2019, our elected leaders should know that neighborhood business owners are not going to forget the harm this tax is causing us.
If Council and the mayor don't have the courage to listen to the people and repeal this tax, then our elected leaders in Harrisburg should take action. State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Phila.) recently held a hearing on the damage the beverage tax is causing. I applaud his concern, and urge him and his fellow lawmakers to continue their work.
We need to get rid of this beverage tax before it drives small-business owners out of business.
Melissa Kelsey owns the Southern Inn restaurant in Southwest Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org