“America’s Finest City” Isn’t Looking So Fine After This:

This story taking place in San Diego – often called “America’s Finest City” by us locals – came and went in one day.

But it stuck with me.

It has to do with shopping carts

A rather pedestrian item that we don’t give much thought to.

And we’re so accustomed to seeing abandoned shopping carts this that we barely notice this:

Of course, not all shopping carts are abandoned:

We’ll circle back around to shopping carts and the homeless shortly.

This shopping carts story stuck with me because my husband’s parents owned a small grocery store.  When customers walked off with (stolen) shopping carts – to transport their purchases to their homes or to the bus stop, for example…

 …the shopping carts had to be replaced.

His parents had to pay for those replacements, and this wasn’t something they could just write off as “the cost of doing business.” 

That cost had to be passed on to customers – to those who stole and to those who wouldn’t dream of stealing a grocery cart.

And it isn’t just small stores that pass on the cost of stolen shopping carts – most, probably all stores do this:

“The Food Marketing Institute reports that nearly two million shopping carts are stolen each year, translating into a per-store loss of $8,000 to $10,000 annually – and that’s only in the food industry.

“Shoppers wouldn’t think of borrowing a car to get their purchases home, but these same people assume that as customers they are allowed to take baskets and carts with them.”

Stores are fighting back, of course – some turning to companies whose business is shopping cart theft prevention, like this one:

The options might include high-tech electronic systems – for example, the shopping cart is fitted with an electronic locking wheel clamp or “boot…”

…and transmitter with a thin wire is placed around the perimeter of the parking lot.  The boot locks when the cart leaves the designated area, and store personnel must then deactivate the lock with a handheld remote control to return the cart to stock.

Then there are low-tech options such as vertical posts at the store entrance to keep carts from being taken into the parking lot, or mounting a pole taller than the entrance onto the shopping cart, so that the pole will block exit of the cart:

And this news story:

Demonstrated how to get a shopping cart lock to release:  Insert a quarter.  When you return the cart, your quarter pops out of the lock.

High-tech or low-tech, who pays for this theft prevention?

Here’s looking at you, kid.

And me.

A system that isn’t proactive like these, but rather reactive, is the one that’s been around the longest:

A cart retrieval service collects carts found off the store’s premises and returns them to the store for a fee.  Who is that fee passed on to?

Here’s looking at you again, kid.

And me.

Shopping cart retrieval services are all over the country and can range from one guy in his pickup truck to large-scale operations like this:

This is RMS, offering shopping cart retrieval services right here in San Diego.

I said I’d circle back around to shopping carts and the homeless, and here goes.

We all know that some homeless people use shopping carts.  And sometimes those shopping carts end up in homeless encampments:

According to this article:

In recent months in downtown San Diego and other areas where the city has increased enforcement of laws prohibiting sidewalk homeless encampments:

“During cleanups, crews toss shopping carts…into a trash truck, where they are crushed and hauled to a landfill.”

The article also says:

“City officials originally were asked in mid-July why shopping carts found in homeless encampments were destroyed rather than given back to their owners.  The question was referred to RMS, and conversations with city officials on Friday still did not explain why carts were destroyed.”

Yet Matthew Dodson, president of RMS’ cart-retrieval service CarTrac, said he was unaware that the city was destroying shopping carts until contacted for a comment about the policy.

So America’s Finest City ducked the question and referred it to RMS, RMS didn’t know San Diego was destroying shopping carts, and oh, by the way – according to Dodson, “destroying shopping carts is illegal”:

“A section of the California Business and Professions code states cities and counties must notify retailers if shopping carts are impounded, and they must be held 30 days before being discarded or sold.”


“City officials have not commented about Dodson’s claim about the code violation.”

City officials can be amazingly mum when it suits them.

A supervising public information officer for San Diego said the city does contact RMS when people report shopping carts in public places through the city’s Get It Done app.

This public servant also unhelpfully noted:

“Cart owners have the option to install theft prevention devices that would eliminate these carts from ending up in canyons, riverbeds or sidewalks.”

So this person is suggesting that it’s not San Diego’s fault that San Diego is destroying shopping carts – it’s the cart owners fault because the cart owners haven’t installed theft protection devices?

San Diego shoppers are paying for stores to replace stolen grocery carts and paying for San Diego to destroy them.

Does any city official see how screwed up this is?

And continues to be?

The Union-Tribune article was dated August 14 but I haven’t posted about it until now because I kept checking for follow-up articles – something that would indicate that America’s Finest City has stopped throwing away shopping carts.

As of a month later…nothing.

Nothing except a continuation of this:

One more shopping cart crushed, two more to go.

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