GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Without admitting any guilt, managers of some inner city Grand Rapids stores promise they will not treat customers unfairly or illegally.
The pledge comes after demonstrators carrying picket signs marched outside Fannie's Market on Eastern Avenue and the BP gas station and convenience store at the corner of Eastern and Franklin SE.
Protestors say the businesses will only give in-store credit instead of cash for returned bottles and cans.
"I've brought bottles back and the owner has said to me he will only offer an in-store credit rather than offering a regular deposit," says customer Sam Bateman.
Other customers say the stores charge a deposit on beverages that are exempt from the fee.
"They charge an extra 10 cents on Arizona teas," says customer Tiffany Adams. "They are charging a deposit and they aren't supposed to do that." But the BP convenience store manager denies the charges.
Manager Goldi Singh says insists they redeem returned bottles and cans with cash, not in-store credit. "We give the cash back, whatever it's supposed to be," he says. "That's what we have been doing."
But protest organizer Reverend Bryan Blakely of the Bates Place Ministry says he has received many complaints. "We have heard numerous problems with them," he says. "Making customers spend their refunds in the store. We have a crisis community here with lower income people and a dollar or two dollars is a lot of money for many of them. This has got to stop."
The managers of Fannie's Market and the nearby BP convenience store say they do not collect a deposit for exempt containers. "No, we cannot charge it on something if there is no deposit," says Singh.
Going forward, managers say they will comply with state law and offer cash refunds on can and bottle deposits. "Yep," says Singh. "That's what we have been doing all along."
"I heard what he said," says Reverend Blakely. "But I know the truth. I live in this community. If things are not followed through on, we will be back."
Many customers say they would take their business elsewhere if there were other nearby stores, but most don't have transportation. To meet that need, the Bates Place Ministry is organizing free shuttles on Wednesdays to drive inner city residents back and forth to grocery stores where they say practices and prices are fair.
"Where families get the most bang for their buck," says Blakely. "We are going to get them to the store and back to their house with groceries."