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Grotto Pizza says it’s “giving back to the community” in a new way this year — by eliminating the use of balloons at its coastal locations.

Vice President Jeff Gosnear said the decision, made in late May, has already been a tasty treat for the company as many customers have expressed their appreciation for the gesture.

“It’s been very good for us. The feedback has been so positive,” he said.
The decision wasn’t made lightly, officials said, as Grotto Pizza leadership knows all too well the impact of the balloons on the “community culture” that can be found inside any of their locations, Mr. Gosnear added.

Around 200,000 balloons are used in customer interactions during any given year, from decorations to child’s play. By eliminating them, along with one-time use grocery bags, at the coastal locations, Grotto Pizza has a goal to positively impact the environment around them.

“They’re kids. It lasts a few minutes and then they’re onto something else. If we were going to have a lot of negative feedback, we were going to get it on Memorial Day Weekend when the kids come. There hasn’t been any,” he said. “Everyone says the same thing: ‘Way to go. Finally. This is wonderful.’ We went even one step further and eliminated the use of one-time use grocery bags.”

Grotto Pizza locations in Delaware where helium-filled balloons will no longer appear include Rehoboth Avenue, North Boardwalk, South Boardwalk, Lewes, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany Beach, Long Neck. Two locations in Ocean City also will follow suit, the restaurants on 125th Street and 14th Street.

“You really can’t go on to a website or Facebook without seeing something about the marine mammals ingesting some type of plastic. Straws, plastic bags, and we made the decision that if we want to be good stewards of the environment…,” Mr. Gosnear said. “It’s a tradition we’ve had for a very long time. Kids love getting a balloon. But I think that the overall good that we’re doing kind of makes up for that.”

A worldwide helium shortage also helped guide Grotto Pizza toward their decision as they struggled to find helium sources.

“My understanding is it’s a non-renewable gas. It’s not like we’re going to find new helium sources. We were starting to have problems getting helium. We were thinking. . . there could be better uses of that resource,” he explained.

While Grotto Pizza officials said they are confident that most of their balloons never reached the ocean or other wildlife areas, they do acknowledge that the balloons have to end up somewhere.

“85 percent of the balloons that we were using, 95 percent, never made it into the ocean. People took them when they were deflated, they put them probably in their normal trash. We were concerned more with the kids that would walk out and all of a sudden the balloon got released and it’s in the ocean. There’s no way to break that down once it’s in the ocean. But, even in the land fill, it’s not breaking down the same way,” Mr. Gosnear said. “I think we’re doing our part.”

He said the efforts were a start, but there was one more thing they needed to do for the biggest impact – they will donate the plastic bags currently owned by Grotto Pizza that they do not intend on using to a gentleman who makes mats out of bags for the homeless community.

“We got a call in to our Grand Slam restaurant from this man. He makes these single use mats with plastic bags. How could we say no? So, we are coordinating that,” Mr. Gosnear said.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat, announced her appreciation of their efforts on her Facebook page, saying, it’s “great to see one of our biggest businesses pushing to go greener.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com