Take a Bite out of Crime?

This sign was affixed to the cart I pulled from the corral – and seemingly all of its brothers and sisters – this morning at Whole Foods Market. Such signs weren’t there last week.

I thought to myself, “Well, that’s not a very friendly way to start off your interaction with the store. Now, I suppose you can’t just put signs on the carts that the larcenous are going to use and then take, because you can’t know in advance which carts will be commandeered by the larcenous…so you just have to assume all of your customers are criminals and treat them all that way.”

(And yeah, the missing o in “prohibited” was giving me the grammar-smitty itch the whole time I was shopping.)

I know carts are expensive, and cart theft is a problem in many places. Target prevents this with carts with a wheel that locks when pushed past a boundary line. A WFM store I worked at in the past had barriers at the curb that prevented carts from making their way out into the parking lot.

In New York, all the little old ladies have one of these to get their stuff home from Gristedes or D’Agostino. Here in Fresno, I never see those, but I do regularly see individuals or families pushing their purchases home in a store cart. I snapped this picture (through my very dirty windshield) on the way home from WFM. As in this image, the carts being pushed are usually Food Maxx’s.

When I saw that woman, I thought, “It sometimes seems like the only reason anyone is walking in Fresno is if they don’t have a car. And if you don’t have a car to take your groceries home, you’re probably not buying them at WFM.” Then I thought, “Yikes, maybe it’s not people taking home their groceries at all that’s motivating that sign, but the use of carts among Fresno’s homeless population.”

Anyhow, my thought while I was shopping was that I would have rather seen such a sign, if needed, affixed to the cart corral rather than the cart itself. If it’s at the corral, it comes across more like a general message. Attached to “your” cart, it feels like it’s targeting you specifically – like you’re under suspicion of being a cart thief the moment you approach the store.

And while I appreciate that attaching the message to the cart rather than the corral – where there’s no way it can be missed (or could claim to have been missed) if you are found (guilty) with it off the premises – makes the point more strongly and perhaps the case more airtight if you’re trying to get someone a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or one year in jail, it is really, really unwelcoming. And do you want to be unwelcoming at a place where you’re trying to get people to part with their money?

The negative feeling of the message being on every cart could have been reduced somewhat if it weren’t so legalistic (and also, perhaps, if it wasn’t “yelling” at you.) How about: “Welcome to WFM Fresno! Please use me to shop and bring purchases out to the parking lot. Don’t remove me from store premises, though – theft of shopping carts like me is a crime punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and/or one year in jail.”

But then, when I got home and sat down to download the pictures from my camera, a little Googling revealed all. The language is a standard boilerplate from a city ordinance passed last August. It’s part of the “Abandoned Shopping Cart Ordinance,” (PDF file) and the requirements are as follows:

(a) Cart Identification Required. Every owner of shopping carts, as defined by this article, shall mark or cause the cart to be marked and identified conspicuously with: the name, address, and telephone number of the owner; and a notice that provides that the removal of the cart from the premises of the owner is a violation of State law. Every owner of more than twenty-five (25)
shopping carts shall also mark or cause the cart to be conspicuously marked to provide a name and toll free telephone number of a party that is responsible for retrieval of the cart.

(4) Signs. Multi-lingual signs shall be placed prominently and conspicuously at all entrances and exits to the cart owner’s premises, including the parking areas, that provide a notice of substantially the following information:
“REMOVAL OF SHOPPING CARTS FROM THESE PREMISES IS PROHIBITED BY STATE LAW (B&P § 22435.2) AND WILL SUBJECT THE VIOLATOR TO A MAXIMUM FINE OF $1000.00 AND/OR ONE YEAR IN JAIL”

Before the ordinance was put in place, advocates spoke out saying it was anti-homeless. And afterward, well

So: Not WFM’s idea, the City of Fresno’s, but I do think WFM could have executed complying with the ordinance in a more diplomatic way.

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