There's a plague in our city. No, it's not the Zika virus. It's the plethora of abandoned chain-store grocery carts. I live and work downtown and, well, there appears to be a cart lying on its side, hiding behind a building or parked on a sidewalk on every other block these days. Here's the rub: They are usually stolen and only some of the chain stores seem to care about their losses. The cops round them up once a week (12-30 at a time) and try and get them back to their rightful owners, but it's a never-ending headache.
Shopping carts are to be used by customers inside a store to transport merchandise to the check-out stand and then out to their cars after they've purchased their goods. In most places there's a designated area in the parking lot to return the cart. In no places that I know of do chain stores allow customers to take the carts home with them. Googling them, I found that the larger stainless carts cost $800 new, but I'm guessing, if you buy smaller ones in mass quantities they might be more like $200 each.
Smith's/Kroger installed an electronic locking wheel on its carts at the superstore on 500 South and 500 East in fall 2015. You can't push their carts past the parking lot anymore, and that's saving them a fortune in stolen carts. Sadly, other stores nearby haven't followed suit. Within a few blocks, there's a Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe's and a Natural Grocers. Trader Joe's locks its inventory of carts up at night. Other stores keep them inside or park them in an area up next to the store but don't lock them. Yet, there are still dozens of carts stolen in the city every day.
According to the Utah Code & Constitution, section 76-6-602, a person commits the offense of retail theft when he or she knowingly "[r]emoves a shopping cart from the premises of a retail mercantile establishment with the intent of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such a cart."
I asked a store manager this week at one local chain why the store doesn't lock its carts to prevent theft. His response was, "Why don't the police arrest anyone for stealing our carts?" Sadly, the police don't have much time or staff to arrest cart thieves given the pounds of spice, meth, heroin and cocaine busts they make on a weekly basis. Plus, so many of the carts are used by the homeless as mobile storage devices for their worldly goods. It's kind of a moral dilemma, right? If you see an abandoned cart, phone 801-799-3686 (a Salt Lake City Police Department hotline dedicated to report problems downtown). Let's do our bit to keep our city clean.