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State minimum wage increase forces redemption center closure

While the increase puts more money in employee’s pockets, it is also forcing some employers out of business.

BANGOR, Maine — Opponents of Maine's minimum wage increase’s worst fear is coming true.

While the increase puts more money in employee’s pockets, it is also forcing some employers out of business.

The Bangor Redemption and Beverage Center shut its doors this week after 36 years of business.

The "main thing causing this closure is the increase in minimum wage,” said the Bangor redemption center’s owner, Paul Baron.

Baron said he knew it was only a matter of time until he would be forced to close after the state’s legislature raised the minimum wage beginning in 2017, to $9 an hour.

Since then, the minimum wage has increased by a dollar a year and will cap at $12 an hour in 2020.

"With the increase of minimum wage, we just have no way to recoup that additional expense,” said Baron.

In 2017, Baron and his wife, Wendy, had seventeen employees working at their redemption center on Broadway in Bangor.

Last summer, they were down to only eight employees and the Barons stopped taking a salary themselves just to make ends meet.

Any changes they made to try to save money, and the business, didn’t work this time.

"One of the hardest things is when you find somebody that's good and is loyal to you and you really have no choice, even at Christmas, to put them out of work,” said Baron. “We had no choice."

The Barons aren't the only ones forced to make tough choices in the wake of these minimum wage increases.

"We've had to decrease employees,” said Brewer Redemption Center co-owner, Airianne Hatt.

Hatt and her brother, Jacob, have owned and operated the Brewer Redemption Center for nine years this Spring.

“We’ve had to increase our work so we’re here days that we’re not actually open, cleaning up, getting ready for the next day for customers so that they’re not waiting, and so that we can get the product in and out, so that we can get paid, so that we can pay our employees,” said Hatt. “It’s obviously a vicious cycle but that’s what we have to do.”

At full staff, they have nine employees.

Currently, they are working with only six, and they can't afford to bring anyone else on without a raise from the state.

"We haven't had an increase in what we get for our handling fee in almost nine years,” said Hatt. “I definitely think with us having to take this hardship with minimum wage going up it's definitely our turn to have some kind of increase."

Until then, Hatt is hoping to bring more bottles into her facility by absorbing some of the Bangor redemption center's business just over the river.

For those in the redemption business, trying to stay in business despite the latest wage increase is like their worst fear becoming a reality.

“I hate seeing this business close,” said Baron. “It’s one of the few things that actually works to keep things out of the landfill. We send three semi’s a day, five days a week that are full, and that keeps returnables out of the landfill.”

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