One market’s Earth Day goal: Serio’s prepares to stop distributing paper bags, urges customers take part in BagShare Project

NORTHAMPTON- Serio’s Market is preparing to go paper bag-free on Wednesday, the 45th annual Earth Day. To prepare for the transition, Serio’s is expanding its involvement with the BagShare Project to have 1,000 reusable bags available at the front of the market at 65 State St. by Wednesday.

BagShare is a program aimed to replace the bulk use of disposable bags by offering cloth alternatives to customers. The project, started in Hampshire County by Leni Fried, uses volunteer sewers to make cloth bags which are donated to stores.

When a business agrees to host a BagShare station, customers may take one of the bags with the hope that they will return it at their next visit or at any participating BagShare business.

Friend described the sewn bags a reminder for customers to bring their own reusables as a better alternative to disposables. She added that cooperation from Serio’s customers is pivotal if the program is to make any significant change.

“We as people are so convenience-oriented,” Fried said. “If no one remembers to bring a bag back, then those (1000) will be gone in two weeks. If we as a community want this to work, we need to support Serio’s and we need to change.”

Fried said bag-sharing also brings the community together because each bag is sewn by a volunteer who may add a creative touch. They sew an identification tag into the cloth, a place where Friend said they can write their “name or poetry.”

Serio’s stopped giving plastic bags to customers in 2008 and became a partner with the BagShare project in 2008.

Owner Gary Golec and general manager Jaimie Golec agreed to give up paper bags when one of their employees Anya Spector, a senior at Northampton High, then contacted Fried about aiming to have 1,000 cloth bags ready for Earth Day.

Spector said she offered the idea because the BagShare Project already was in place and she saw an opportunity to make a small difference regarding an issue she cares about.

“I think that a lot of it is getting people thinking about their effects,” Spector said. “Even though it might seem really small at first, it all adds up. it’s a good way to get people into the mind-set to making small sacrifices that are good for the environment.”

Jaimie Golec sat on a milk crate behind the market one day last week and admitted that she and her father have concerns about the transition.

‘Social and economic duty

“Yeah, we’re nervous, we’re working just to keep the bills and our employees paid. We can’t afford to lose a single customer… but it’s worth it for the environment, the planet, and as a community-oriented business it’s part of our social and economic duty,” Jaimie Golec said.

Gary Golec, who sat on the tailgate of his red pickup truck, added that even though the independent markets are the ones struggling, they still make the effort to have a positive impact on their community.

“You don’t see the same things happening at chain stores,” Gary Golec said. “Businesses like us, we’re the ones doing things like this. If you like the community you live in, then support the businesses who help your community.”

Jaimie said they take every opportunity to use their business as a way to make a positive impact in Northampton. They phase out products that have what she described as unethical business practices. They give any local farmers or food companies a chance on their shelves.

Serio’s slogan is “Where friends are customers and customers are friends.”

“Our slogan isn’t just lip service. We really are conscious of the people we see walk in and out of here every day,” Jaimie Golec said.

While the Golecs say they fully support the transition to doing away with disposable bags, Jaimie said they still have to be realistic and accept that some customers are going to want the service they’re used to.

“There’s the reality and the fantasy of it,” Jaimie Golec said. “we can’t afford to refuse a customer a paper bag if they ask for one. We’ll keep a small stock of them but try as much as humanly possible to have customers bring reusables.”

The BagShare Project is important to the Golecs for a more personal reason. Christina A. Cavallari, who owned Serio’s with her husband Gary until she passed away last May 30, was a passionate supporter of the BagShare Project at the marker.

“Like Leni said, there’d be days where we’d host a BagShare sewing and Chris would be the only one out there at the table with a smile on her face sewing away,” said Jaimie Golec, her stepdaughter.

Serio’s is the largest market to make the bag-free switch and the Golecs hope they can be a leader of the initiative. However, they agreed with Fried that they cannot do it alone.

“Our biggest problem is that the bags don’t really get returned,” jaimie Golec said. “Our customers have been great in showing support but if the bags don’t make it back, they’ll be gone in a week. We can only do 50 percent of the work here. If this is going to work, everyone needs to make a little change.”