December 26, 2012

Winthrop redemption center displaced by car dealership sale

M.T. Bottle Co. has been on Bob Barrows Chevrolet lot since 1981; moving to 90 Royal St. in Winthrop

BY JOHN HALE, Correspondent

WINTHROP -- The recent sale of Bob Barrows Chevrolet on U.S. Route 202 to Charlie's auto dealerships is displacing the largest and longest-operating bottle and can redemption center in town.

click image to enlarge

Steve Hodgkins tosses bottles into a truck Monday at his Winthrop redemption center, M.T. Bottle Co. The firm is moving to a new location.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Steve Hodgkins waits for a customer Monday while sorting cans at his Winthrop redemption center, M.T. Bottle Co. The firm is moving to a new location.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

M.T. Bottle Co. has occupied a good-sized space in one of two buildings on the Barrows lot since 1981. The redemption center, run by 70-year-old Stephen Hodgkins, his wife, Jo-Ellen, and his nephew, Jake Curtis, must move because Charlie's Dealership Group bought Barrows Chevrolet Dec. 18.

But that isn't slowing down Hodgkins. Hodgkins already has found a new spot for his business at 90 Royal St., in the former Lloyd Bryant plumbing shop, across the street from Paris Farmers Union.

Hodgkins will only lose one day of business with his ambitious moving plan. He will close up shop at the former Barrows building at 1 p.m. Saturday and reopen at the new location at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"We're under pressure," Hodgkins said. "Tommy Barrows (former owner of Barrows Chevrolet) gave us an eviction order on Dec. 18 and we've got 30 days or less to move out."

Hodgkins said the move isn't what he wanted -- and he would have liked more time to find a new location -- but "we don't have that time frame."

"Until this time, M.T. Bottling has never shut down in all these years," he said.

Steve Shuman, president of Charlie's Chevrolet in Winthrop, said M.T. Bottle Co. had to move fast because of the dealership's plans.

"In the next year and a half, we're going to be redoing the inside and the outside of that building," Shuman said.

Hodgkins said M.T. Bottle Co. does a very good volume of business. About half a dozen large trucks, including those dispatched by Budweiser and Pepsi, pick up bottles and cans there every week.

"We can push 20,000 bottles through on a peak summer day," said Hodgkins

Hodgkins said he has an obligation to the public to continue the bottle business, but the move will be complicated because he will have to move a lot of unsorted beverage containers and the business handles more than 270 different brands.

Hodgkins, who also collects and repairs violins and other stringed instruments, said he's made a lot of friends in the bottle redemption business. Aside from his wife, Jo-Ellen, his two daughters also worked in the business.

"I had a girl come in here when she was 13 and now she's a grandma," he said. "I've had a lot of customers in here that I know who are gone now."

M.T. Bottle is a play on the "empty bottle" and Hodgkins said he developed many mottos for his business over the years, including "We can probably count better than you can guess" and "We may not be the nicest, but we'll be the fastest."

Another Hodgkins motto: "I may not be anyone's idol, but I have a title and I'm proud of who I am -- I'm the bottle man."

"I like people," he said. "My sense of humor has turned a few people off. I called someone a sissy once and he didn't come back."


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