Niagara Gazette

March 15, 2014

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Many happy returns for new business

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Misers — Bottle Junction is joining us. We can not contain our enthusiasm. Compulsive returners (known to some as “Beer Can Sam,” Doug has five-figure certificate of deposit), we’ll have our own nickel city right here.

Bottle Junction redeems almost any sort of returnable container with few questions asked. We’ve pocketed around $50 from Wheatfield and Tonawanda locations. It’s indescribably easy and pleasant, if you consider the Channel No. 5 aroma of stale beer and soda as the scent of money.

You dump the bottles on a counter, they take it from there, sorting, tossing and counting. Fearful of interrupting the count, Doug untypically goes mute, although co-founder Gary Herman insists that “once you’ve done it for a while, it’s second nature.”

Herman and Ray Pabon, both retirees, opened their first Junction in Wheatfield in 2011. “It was a good business plan,” Herman told us the other day. “There are lots of them downstate.” A few, to tell the truth, pay six cents. Don’t get odds like that at the casino.

So where’s the profit? Many distributors will pay redemption centers such as Bottle Junction an additional fee, up to three cents per container. (Bookies call that “the vigorish.”) The math mystifies us, but this is Bottle Junction’s third location, so it must all add up.

For shoppers feeding Tops’ cold, cantankerous contraptions or enduring the haughty disdain at 7-Eleven, Bottle Junction will seem like payoff paradise. “When you stand in line to return cans” at a retailer, Herman says, “you’re not only wasting time, you’re working for the store.”

Some customers bring a little something extra. We were telling Gary how a brick holds our collection bag in place and he finished the story: “And you brought us the brick, didn’t you?” (Twice.) “You wouldn’t believe the stuff that comes in here.” (Yes, we would.) “Garage-door openers, car keys.” (Feel the frustration?) “We got a live snake once and a few mice.” (Not simultaneously, we presume.)

Then came a small bottle filled with gasoline. “That,” he said, “we weren’t very happy about.”

That’s rare. His workers, numbering 17 at the moment, ooze good cheer like a leaky LaBatt’s. “We’re in the customer service business,” he says. “We want you to leave happy.”

The junction co-ordinates fundraisers, too, and on request will funnel the money toward registered civic groups, maybe even our unique Miracle Field.

According to Wikipedia, New York state has the lowest return rate of any container-law state. One out of three returnables vanishes into the mist. Bottle Junction and its ilk aim at lowering that ratio. With everything in place, it may open as early as next weekend at 2447 Grand Island Blvd., right next to Mighty Taco. Write your own joke here.

Come visit. Bring a six-pack. We could use 30 cents.

Polly and DougE-mail