The ice-cold, carbonated, coin-operated oasis is out of order in Fairfax County.
The county's new beverage container ordinance has shut down more than 2,000 vending machines, costing their operators thousands of dollars in revenue and leaving customers thirsty and frustrated.
"We're practically out of business now" (in Fairfax), said Darrell E. Lingenfield, sales manager for Washington Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Lingenfield said his film is busy converting 1,200 to 1,500 soda vending machines in Fairfax from 12-ounce pop-top cans to 6 1/2-ounce bottles. The conversion costs from $200 to $400 a machine.
The week-old Fairfax ordinance bans the sale of carbonated, nonalcoholic drinks in cans with a detachable pop-top and requires the placement of a sticker with the words "Washington Metropolitan Area, 5-cent refund" on other carbonated soda containers.
When the ordinance went into effect Sept. 1, gas stations, offices, schools and parks, among other locations, were forced to pull the lug on their machines and tape over the coin slots.
While customers are now facing the inconvenience of being unable to buy refreshments at some locations, they probably will discover, when the machines are converted, that they are getting less for their money.
For example, the 12-ounce can of Coke costing 30 cents will be replaced by a 6 1/2-ounce returnable bottle costing as much as 30 cents. The price will include a 5-cent deposit, but in many cases there will not be anyone around to provide the refund.
Attendants at filling stations can give refunds, but who will provide them when the station is closed?"There doesn't seem to be any way out," Jay F. Davis, executive vice president of Washington 7-Up Bottling Co., said.
If neighboring jurisdictions had such an ordinance - Fairfax is the only metropolitan area community with such a law in effect - redemption centers throughout the area might be a solution, Davis said.
While a vending machine is shut down, awaiting conversion, it costs its operator an average of $75 a week in sales, of which about $33 is profit.
Coke's Lingenfield estimates that about 85 per cent of his company's machines will be converted. But some places - such as parks and public schools - will not convert to bottles, he said, because of the danger and nuisance of broken glass.
Once upon a time, all soda vending machines used returnable bottles, but, according to 7-Up's Davis, operators began using cans and other throwaways when machines were installed in a wider variety of places - where no one around to pay a refund.
Under the Fairfax law, which has survived its first court tests, the middleman who is not around to pay refund may make an extra profit.
He passes on the distributor's bottle charge to the customer, but gets to keep the deposit if the customer does not seek him out to get a refund.
The assistant superintendent of Fairfax schools said of the machines located in teacher lounges: "We're not going to have someone standing there giving a refund."
Meanwhile, a few shoppers in four stores selected at random in the county seemed to mind that the store sheleves were without sodas like Passion Fruit Punch. Cherry Berry or Carribean Cola. Most stores just sell Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper and RC Cola products, which are available in returnable bottles. Safeway sells its own Cragmont brand in seven flavors in a 64-ounce non-returnable bottle. it has an appropriate hand marked sticker attached.
Shoppers who said they prefer soft drinks in cans were not vehement in their dislike for the ordinance. They just shrugged their shoulders, bought something else, or said they would do without for a while.
Liquor drinkers will miss club soda, ginger ale, tonic water, bitter lemon, Tom Collins mix and grapeful soda, which distributors have not yet made available in the appropriate containers.
Although several shoppers in major stores in the county yesterday did not seem perturbed about the lack of returnable soda products, A&P and Safeway stores in Fairfax City, which are not affected by the ordinance, said their stores experienced a significant increase ins oft drink sales since the ordinance became effective.
"There's a definite increase in (the sale of) nonreturnables in our two Fairfax City stores," said Ernie Moore, a spokesman for Safeway. "But not so much in Alexandria."
"I think its a good idea. Janet Eatmon a Safeway shopper in Vienna, said of the ordinance. "You can get your money back."
"I personally disposed of all my trash at home," said Sheryl Archibald while staring at the clear plastic draping the unsalable, nonreturnable soft drinks on a Vienna Giant Food store shelf. "I'm not a litterer. I suppose all the people who are trashy are to blame for this ordinance.I like disposable bottles. I don't like the hassle of returning bottles."
Constance Smith of Vienna said she does not mind the ordinance except that Coca-Cola is easier to carry to her resort home in cans and fit better in the refrigerator.
Lynn Corddry, another Vienna resident, was searching the Giant soft drink shelves for tonic water for her husband, but it was not available in returnable containers. Corddry said she will just wait until it is sold in returnable bottles.
"I think the ordinance is great," Corddry said. "I'm 100 per cent for it." Corddry said she is from the Oregon area where a similar ordinance "is working fine."