Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Attack of the Shopping Carts

There's a great creeping threat confronting our nation's cities. It's not homegrown Islamic extremism, and it has nothing to do with the health care industry or undocumented foreign-born residents. I'm talking about a commonplace and seemingly innocuous object, a simple metal basket with a handle and four wheels attached. Yes, I'm talking about a Shopping Cart, that very totem and mascot of our modern consumer-based economy. Sure: it seems harmless enough, as you trundle it up and down the produce aisle dropping shrink-wrapped rutabagas into its bottom. It's docile, unquestioning, and but for that one shuddery and skittish front wheel (standard issue, it seems), it does its work.
But what if I told you that the nation's Shopping Carts are rebelling? That they're escaping their grocery masters in ever-growing numbers? That they're swarming into our streets, tumbling down highway embankments, cluttering our pristine cityscapes, even — gasp!nicking our bumpers? You'd laugh, is what you'd do. But then I'm not just trumping up the threat here. I have evidence:

In June 2006, municipal officials in Long Beach, California embarked on a "sweep" of their fair city for Abandoned Shopping Carts. The sweep, which was conducted over the course of a single Saturday, turned up 699 ASCs. If you'll allow me the blogger's privilege of rounding up, I'll be able to say that at least SEVEN HUNDRED shopping carts had gone astray of a single city's supermarkets and were parked in plain view for the city to collect. I understand that some 500,000 people live in Long Beach. By my calculation, that's 1400 "[c]arts per million," to paraphrase a preferred term of the Climate Change Cassandras. And that's just what's out in the open: who knows how many more were secreted away in hiding?

Long Beach had to act, and act they did: the City passed an Abandoned Shopping Cart Ordinance that condemned the ASC an "eyesore, potential hazard, and nuisance." Henceforward, Long Beach supermarket owners are required to warn shoppers against removing carts from their property; the ordinance specifies that the warnings must appear in at least two languages (which two is a question left, apparently, to the cart owner's discretion: Cherokee & Finnish? Inuit & Urdu?), and in block lettering at least two inches tall. Under the Long Beach Ordinance, it is now unlawful to make off with a shopping cart without the owner's permission — thank heavens this loophole, this gaping lacuna in the law has been closed! — and certain store owners are required to maintain a "physical containment system" to keep shopping carts from making a break for it when no one's looking. (This latter requirement might seem a costly imposition, but when you consider that some chains have already implemented similar confinement schemes for their employees, in many cases it's just a matter of tinkering with systems already on-site.)

Lest you should think this plague was confined to Southern California, take note that lawmakers in Fresno; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Florida's Hillsborough County (that's Tampa) have also taken steps to combat the Abandoned Shopping Cart menace. Indeed, the Northwest Grocery Association, a nonprofit organization of grocery retailers, wholesalers and suppliers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, has devised a Shopping Cart Retrieval Service to help its constituent businesses comply with laws of municipalities in those states. It looks as though our nation's cities and towns are finally getting the upper hand on this crisis. One could, I suppose, object that these laws have a quality of micromanagement to them. But when you consider the alternative — unmanned grocery carts careering willy-nilly around the landscape, scattering Stop & Shop coupon circulars in their wake — it becomes clear that we're surely better off with these laws than we'd be without them.

We at Feigned Outrage tip our caps to you, Town and City Councils of America, for wrestling this matter to the ground.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I lived in West Philly, one of the sad facts of life was the Thriftway Supermarket's policy on shopping carts -- they basically built a fenestrated barrier around the store entrance which allowed customers to walk in and out, but corralled the carts within, ostensibly to keep them from flying astray. Perhaps it was Thriftway's response to the Abandoned Shopping Cart Menace...

(A more sobering explanation is that people were stealing the carts to use as part of their home or as a means of transporting stuff to peddle, since poverty was so rampant in West Philly.)

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