WILKES-BARRE — Barbara DeWitt Smith was down to her last six-pack of her favorite soft drink Monday, but she didn’t realize how dire the situation was until she got to the beverage aisle at Wegmans.
That’s when Smith, 76, of Shavertown, knew a crisis was at hand — at least for her and her fellow lovers of TaB diet cola.
“Wegmans is always stocked with shelves full of TaB, but the TaB shelves were empty,” Smith said. “I knew I had to take action.”
Her efforts paid off, but it was a complex process.
On Tuesday, Smith set out on a journey that involved calls to Atlanta and Pittsburgh and a two-and-a-half hour drive to Connecticut, where she would purchase eight 12-packs of TaB — for her, a seven-week supply.
The soda known for its distinctive pink cans and stylized spelling was introduced by Coca-Cola as the company’s first calorie-free drink in 1963. Despite the variety of no-calorie soft drinks introduced since then, TaB still has many fiercely loyal fans. Smith, who has been drinking the diet soda since 1985, is one of them.
She talked first to a Wegmans employee who was in the beverage aisle. That person directed her to the beverage manager, who took Smith’s phone number. She was told Wegmans was not aware of any TaB shortage and suggested she contact Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta.
Smith said she managed to talk to a Coca-Cola representative who assured her that TaB was still being delivered to the Wilkes-Barre area and provided her with the name of the distributor — ABARTA Coca-Cola Beverages in Pittsburgh.
Smith was able to reach Pete Benzino, president of ABARTA, who said he would look into the TaB issue and he assured her his company would be delivering TaB to the Wilkes-Barre area, including Wegmans.
That was the long-term solution to Smith’s TaB problem, but she was still faced with a dwindling supply at home. So she decided to drive to Caraluzzi’s Food Market in Bethel, Conn., to stock up.
“TaB is an acquired metallic taste,” Smith said. “It’s got a bite to it and a good dose of caffeine. Other diet colas are either too sweet or too bitter.”
Her Nutmeg State destination wasn’t chosen at random. Smith used to live near Bethel, and she knew Caraluzzi’s carried the cola.
Back home in Luzerne County, Smith received some good news Wednesday.
Wegmans’ beverage manager told her TaB will be delivered to the chain’s Wilkes-Barre warehouse July 2 and will be back on the shelves that day or the next.
“You don’t fool with a dedicated TaB drinker,” Smith said. “I took action and I got results.”
By the way, if Smith’s name sounds familiar, it should.
The Times Leader was co-founded by her grandfather, Col. Ernest G. Smith, in 1907.
After his death in 1945, her father, Harrison H. Smith, inherited the job as publisher and president of the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Company. He used to write the paper’s Little Studies column about the trials and tribulations of dealing with his five daughters and their antics.
A writer herself, Smith’s own first book — “Home At Last” — is a memoir that tells all the family secrets of growing up in a privileged but nutty, colorful household, she said.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.