Roopers Beverage & Redemption owner Steve Roop talks with redemption manager Janice Kimball about operating with only seven of their usual 28 employees. Standing in the new redemption headquarters in the former Neokraft building on Main Street in Lewiston on Thursday afternoon, they have come up with a way to eliminate the need for customers to stand in line for service. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Redemption centers, like other businesses, are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic but are trying to find creative ways to safely operate.

“Redemptions have dropped significantly over the last month,” Scott Wilson, director of Maine’s Beverage Container Redemption Program, said. “There are many redemption centers that are still open, but it’s not business as usual for them. They are changing their operations, so there is less public contact.”

Wilson said redemption centers are like any other place, they have to follow the social distance guidelines put in place by Gov. Janet Mills and Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Redemption centers know what their service means to some people.

“People need income, there were many calls if we were open,” Paul Fearon, owner of Twisted Nickels in New Gloucester, said. “In time of need, everybody has some bottles they can cash in. We were closed for I don’t know, two-three weeks. I felt bad because that bottle money might have been somebody’s dinner.”

Twisted Nickels reopened Monday.

“The governor said to close and we weren’t on the essential list, (but) as of April 3, we were put on the essential list, redemption centers,” Fearon said. “But we still gave it a few weeks to try to keep everybody healthy. It’s our decision. Even now, we don’t have to be open.”

In Turner, Angelo Terreri closed his shop, Coach Terry’s Redemption Center, from March 22 to April 5.

“We let the customers know ahead of time, I put out messages, I put it out on the sign out front for a week or so ahead of time, but I let the people know and they understood that it’s something we should do,” Terreri said. “They are also glad to see us reopen.”

Terreri said business has been about average compared to last year at this time, but the average customer is bringing in more returnables because of the two weeks he shut down.

According to Wilson, redemption centers were always an essential business under the trash collection category.

Maine’s Beverage Container Redemption Program did relax some of its rules if businesses decided to close as a precaution because of the pandemic.

“By law you have to be open for so many hours and all that,” Wilson said. “We have decided during this time, we did not feel comfortable with that, you did not have to stay open.”

Major grocery chains have changed the way they are doing business.

Wilson noted most Maine Hannaford stores use CLYNK, a drop-off program, but are asking customers to hold onto bags as long as possible.

CLYNK gives customers bags for bottles and cans and the customer puts a personal barcode sticker on them before dropping them off at the store. The money is put in their CLYNK account and customers can  print a payment slip for cash at a Hannaford customer service desk.

“CLYNK is still operating,” Wilson said. “CLYNK is asking people to hold their bags a little longer before putting them (in the drop-off area) for count — putting a ribbon on their bag so they know the bag has been sitting around for a while,” Wilson said.

It’s an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Shaw’s supermarkets aren’s allowing returnables at all.

“As we all continue to navigate through this public health crisis together, Shaw’s is continuing to do everything we can to prioritize the health and safety of our customers, our communities and our associates, and to ensure our customers have access to the food, medications and other essential goods they need at this critical time,” Teresa Edington, external communication and community relations manager, said in an email. “In order to keep our Maine communities safe and to better serve our customers, temporarily we will not be accepting bottle redemptions.”

For Roopers, the past month has allowed it to showcase its drop-off program implemented last year to eliminate face-to-face interaction.

“What we have done is move all of our redemption to Main Street in Lewiston and we have a bottle drop-off program that I started actually last July,” Steve Roop, Roopers owner, said. “It’s keeping us busy; we are probably doing 40 to 50 percent of what we used to do on a normal month.”

Roopers Beverage & Redemption owner Steve Roop talks with redemption manager Janice Kimball about operating with only seven of their usual 28 employees. Standing in the new redemption headquarters in the former Neokraft building on Main Street in Lewiston on Thursday afternoon, they have come up with a way to eliminate the need for customers to stand in line for service. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Customers can go to any Roopers store, have their returnables tagged with a UPC code and the value put on a gift card, which can be turned in at any Roopers store.

“We have kiosks at all the stores to get tags for each person’s UPC code and gift card,” Roop said. “We have had such great response over it, actually a lot of people are going to keep doing it because it’s convenient for them. Tag it, bag it, drop it and the money is there.”

Roop said there are cameras set up over every counter so if a customer has a question on how the bottles were counted, customers can review the tape of their returnables.

Roop said he thinks drop-off programs will continue into the future.

“I have been doing this a long time and I have been in the military, and crises happen a lot,” Roop said. “With every crisis there’s an opportunity because everything changes and what’s great about this program, we must have 1,000 customers on it already and they love it. They are like, ‘All I have to do is I don’t have to stand in line anymore.’ So, in that respect (the pandemic) did help my business as far as people noticing a new way to do redemption and it’s a lot easier on the customer and it’s more efficient for us.”


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