Grocery carts: cleanup on Park Avenue
December 31, 2007
Six blocks from Albertson’s, and sometime before midday on Dec. 27, someone finally abandoned the grocery cart.
It sat by itself in the field outside the Park City Library and Education Center, a brisk, slightly uphill trek from the grocery store, which has been jammed with holiday-week visitors.
Meanwhile, a Rite Aid customer figured they needed their grocery cart as well, leaving it on Park Avenue near City Park, about three blocks from the store, and carts from The Market at Park City were seen on Kearns Boulevard, far from the grocery store.
"All around town. It’s amazing how far they make it," says Kristy Morrison, who manages the checkers, baggers and carts at Albertson’s, explaining that as many as 10 carts each day are lost off the premises during the busy season.
In a bizarre scene, the grocery carts were spotted in recent days on numerous streets around Park City, mostly in locations south of Albertson’s and Park City Market, the two major grocers in the city.
The one outside the Library and Education Center was left in the middle of a snowy field, perhaps by someone who realized it was too tough to push it through the snow. Numerous others were left near bus stops, with some stops having a collection of grocery carts left around the bus-stop signs.
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"They’re all over the place," Morrison says, describing that some have been found in Prospector apartment complexes.
The wayward grocery carts appeared as the big crowds arrived in Park City for the holidays, one of the busiest stretches of the year for the city. The visitors stock up at the grocery stores shortly after arriving, but many of them do not have cars.
Instead, they walk or take buses back to their lodging. Carrying armloads of groceries is not appealing to some.
But the grocery stores complain that the carts belong to them, and if they are taken and not returned they must be replaced, costing the store. The Market says the carts cost between $75 and $100 each, and Albertson’s reports their carts are even more valuable.
Mike Holm, who is the director of The Market, says he sends out a worker each morning to retrieve the carts at about 7 a.m. each day, calling them a "growing problem." The store loses about one each day during the busiest times, and others are damaged by snowplows when someone leaves them by the side of the road.
"I’m just a struggling little business trying to get going. I need all the shoppers I get," he says, indifferent to the extra work. "If they want to push a cart away, I’ll gladly go retrieve (them.)"
The people taking the grocery carts likely are unaware of a state law that forbids people from leaving the premises with a shopping cart. The state considers the practice retail theft, and it is classified as a class B misdemeanor, the same as a typical drunken-driving charge. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Phil Kirk, a Park City Police Department captain, says the authorities receive few complaints about people taking grocery carts, and he has not heard of a grocery store pursuing charges against someone who left the premises with one. Instead, he says, officers would probably warn someone seen with a grocery cart.
"We’d probably caution them, the individual, that they need to return it," Kirk says, calling the practice a "temporary mode of transporting their purchase."
At Albertson’s, the losses are mounting. Morrison says the store received a shipment of 250 new carts in October, just before the ski season started. In the two months since, about 50 — one out of every five — have disappeared, she says.
"It’s very hard for us to go get them," she says. "Sometimes, people get frustrated with us because we don’t immediately get them."