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COKE GIVES OLD BOTTLE THE BRUSH

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An icon is dead, an era is gone and things just aren't the same anymore at Snappy Service Lunch.

Sure, the sumptuous cheeseburgers are as greasy as ever. The fries come in the same little plastic baskets. The old-timers still drop by for their midday ritual of sidling up to the counter and ordering from a menu that includes Spam and eggs.But something is amiss, and customers notice it.

"What's this?" asked one the other day as he took a stool and wrapped his hand around a squat, plain, soft-drink bottle of the convenience-store variety.

"That's all they'll give me anymore," lamented owner Morris Daras, who has flipped burgers at the diner since 1957.

Collectively, the lunch-counter crowd sighed and shook their heads. Alas, the curvaceous Coca-Cola container of yore was finally gone for good.

Until about a month ago, Snappy Service - located at 57 S. State - was one of the few places in town where you could still get a Coke in an old-fashioned bottle. Now they are almost impossible to come by in Salt Lake City because the local bottler has decided it's cheaper to go with the modern look.

"Yeah, I get a lot of complaints," said Daras. "Everybody wants the other bottles.

"But Coke ain't gonna worry about that."

At the Park Cafe, 604 E. 1300 South, proprietor John Raines said he, too, is disappointed that the contoured bottles are being phased out. Coke in a old-style bottle is a trademark of the cafe.

"There's a certain ambience to serving it in those old bottles. It's kind of nice," he said. "What blows me away is, they're going away from something returnable."

"But that's corporate America for you."

It's all a matter of the bottom line, said Jo Fairclough, spokesman for Swire Pacific Holdings Inc., which runs the West Valley City bottling plant that provides Utah and nine other states with Coca-Cola and a host of other soft drinks.

The plant produces up to 2.5 million cases of drinks each month and has found returnable bottles economically unfeasible, said Fairclough.

"Nationwide, a big majority of bottlers are giving up returnable bottles," she said, adding that only one glassmaker - in Mexico - still produces returnable bottles.

"Plus there's the fact that people are not returning them," said Fairclough.

The Salt Lake bottler has gone instead to cans and containers made of plastic - polyethylene terephthalate. After the current supply of returnable bottles is distributed, there will be no more.

But Fairclough said the company is test-marketing plastic bottles that look like the old-time glass ones and will sooner or later distribute those in a variety of sizes.

Glass bottles like the ones used when the local bottler opened in 1906 will be made now only for certain occasions, such as Christmas.

"We'll put those out just for special promotions," said Fairclough.