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I Don't Care What You Do With Them, I Just Want One Without A Rickety Wheel!
February 5, 2007 11:36 PM   Subscribe

The utilitarian shopping cart has an interesting history. February is "Return Shopping Carts To The Supermarket Month" in America (yes, it really is). Apparently shopping cart loss is such a problem that there is an industry of shopping cart bounty hunters. Some cities seek to make it a crime for homeless people to possess shopping carts. Some people would rather make art and sculpture out of them. Previously on Metafilter: Shopping Cart Abuse and The Stray Shopping Cart Project.
posted by amyms (41 comments total)

 
I shouldn't be surprised about how much those sculptures look like CGI frames, should I?

One of the most bizarre things I saw in my late night walks was a man riding in the bed of a truck, jumping off, grabbing stray shopping carts, and pulling it onto the truck. He had about 40 and he sounded like a snowplow in a junkyard.
posted by OrangeDrink at 11:48 PM on February 5, 2007


Ricky just waltzes in, thinks he's the king of the carts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 PM on February 5, 2007


Well, if you'd been hauling shopping carts out of ponds for 18 years, you'd at least deserve a check. Don't you think? Anyway, I absolutely love shopping carts. Don't ask why. I just love them.
posted by RayOrama at 12:02 AM on February 6, 2007


Oh shopping cart, oh shopping cart.

Why is it that I fear you?

If only you would love me so that I maybe could move beer with you.

Oh shopping cart, oh shopping cart.

I only wish to push you.

Through my dreams and over streams of flowing, glowing stars. Across the store and out the door and to my crappy car.

Oh shopping cart, oh shopping cart.

Your one bad wheel rules all of you.

Off it came, down I went and this scar you left to remember you.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 12:25 AM on February 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wow. Searching Flickr for shopping cart really brings up some odd stuff.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 12:27 AM on February 6, 2007


All I gotta say is, when I'm out walking my dog on the chi-chi side of town, I see carts and those bounty hunter guys all over the place. Is that how the rich stay rich? By clankering down the boulevard with thier stolen shopping prams teetering with caviar and raw cheeses?
Goddamn but I've got me some class issues.
posted by maryh at 12:35 AM on February 6, 2007


Shopping cart racing.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:03 AM on February 6, 2007


The Cartboy turned into Trailer Park Boys
posted by headless at 1:22 AM on February 6, 2007


The census.gov explanation for the assignation of a month:

The idea is for consumers to avoid the increased food prices that result when store owners have to replace stolen equipment...

I hardly think that fewer lost carts are gonna make the price of milk go down a few cents.
posted by lostburner at 1:57 AM on February 6, 2007


I wonder - do you still have "free-range" carts over there in America? In Europe, as far as I have observed, almost all of them are now fitted with locks and have to have a one euro or 50 cent coin inserted before they can be removed from their parking rows. You get the deposit back when you put the cart back, so it's not that much of a hassle, but I think it would cut down on occasional theft and carts "drifting" out of the store area.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:01 AM on February 6, 2007


whoah (wishing for the img)

Carts cost around $100 per I guess, so if 1% of the customers roll away with one that's a ~$1 cost to everyone else. 0.1% would be ~10c.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:19 AM on February 6, 2007


Some cities seek to make it a crime for homeless people to possess shopping carts.

Under a new ordinance passed in Fresno today, the man in the above photo, could be arrested, fined $1,000, and spend up to a year in jail. It does not matter that the police could not prove that he was not returning this abandoned shopping cart to a grocery store. The ordinance says that if you are in possession of a shopping cart, away from the business that owns it, you could be arrested, fined, and jailed.

Fascists. Next thing you know they will make stealing food from the business that owns it a crime.
posted by three blind mice at 2:24 AM on February 6, 2007


Back in the day, I recovered shopping carts from creeks and ravines for a quarter each ...good times.
posted by srboisvert at 3:27 AM on February 6, 2007


Florida Cop suspended for dragging a shopping cart behind his cruiser - twice.

ah, Florida.
posted by tsarfan at 3:29 AM on February 6, 2007


My favourite piece of shopping cart art - scroll down to "Applied Geometry" - or have a look at the photo
posted by nonemoreblack at 3:29 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It is almost unavoidable to go for a walk in any suburb in Sydney and not see more than one abandoned cart. Some are beyond the reach or means of collectors (maybe they've fallen into a stormwater, maybe they've been abandoned in an obscure spot and rusted), who knows what those carts get up to once they leave the mall? There is a collection service provided by the supermarkets that travels around and loads them all on to a trailer and takes them back home. That's a job for someone. It's a convenience for shoppers that don't have a car.
Also, there's a fellow I often see in the Eastern Suburbs who has constructed a travelling Kunstkammer, complete with home-constructed stereo (that plays the best-where-on-earth-did-that-come-from music) at maximum volume as he travels around - why would you want to lose that?
posted by tellurian at 5:02 AM on February 6, 2007


It's a convenience for shoppers that don't have a car.

Uh, those little grocery buggies you can buy are just about as convenient and also legal. Back when I lived in a condo, the complex had a rule that there were to be no grocery carts on the property. But people kept bringing them home anyway, and they'd just leave them in the hallways or parking lot when they'd unloaded their groceries. The least they could have done was take the cart back to the store after they're done with it, but oh no, that would actually involve effort and consideration for others.
posted by orange swan at 5:10 AM on February 6, 2007


grocery buggies
What are they?
posted by tellurian at 5:20 AM on February 6, 2007


Here's something I made using the wheels from a shopping cart pulled out of the Bow River, Calgary [self-link, but it seems a propos]. It's a TV stand.
I'd tried to buy wheels like that, but they cost a fortune.
posted by Flashman at 5:29 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Permit me to unburden myself of a rant.

Attention morons: when you take your shopping cart out to your car, after you unload your groceries, put it in the damn cart corral. DO NOT leave it in your parking space for me to hit when I try to pull into it. DO NOT leave it in the goddamn aisle of the parking lot so that I have to slalom around it like Jean Claude Killy. And DO NOT leave it sideways in the mouth of the cart corral so that it fills up with only three carts in it. If I catch you doing any of these things, I'm going to stuff YOU in the cart and give you a big push off down that hill that ends up in a drainage culvert.

That is all.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:57 AM on February 6, 2007


My girlfriend welded an amazing day-bed out of two trolleys, but I can't find a pic of it anywhere. A lot of her other art features them too. Or baskets.
posted by imperium at 6:32 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Cart Boy (youtube link).
posted by farishta at 6:43 AM on February 6, 2007


In Europe, as far as I have observed, almost all of them are now fitted with locks and have to have a one euro or 50 cent coin inserted before they can be removed from their parking rows.

We see that with utility carts in airports (but it's a rental fee, not a deposit!), but I don't know if any American supermarkets have taken to renting out carts. That'd bordering on scandalous, really.

What there has been is an upswing in the deployment of perimeter-lock carts. Each cart has a small electronic "boot" on one wheel, and if the cart moves outside some allowable area (probably some tens of feet beyond the exterior bounds of the store), the boot locks and the wheel stops spinning.

I've also seen (or, rather, heard) carts that give off an audio warning when outside the perimeter. The Safeway store ind downtown Portland went to these for a while, and every night (every single goddam night) you would hear "BEEEE-doomp...BEEEE-doomp" and a great deal of rumbly metal scraping for a few minutes at a stretch as someone would make off with a cart.

More recently, the Safeway moved a block over and renovated all to hell and back. It's much nicer now [no sign of the old "Psycho Safeway" that Palahniuk chronicled] and much more contained—no big external parking lot, as they've got an underground parking garage, and so cart visibility outside the store has become nearly a non-issue.

It was back in the reign of the old Psycho Safeway that those lock-scrape BEEE-doomp carts got rolled out, and I remember seeing signage in the parking lot explaining why the store was doing it. There was a cheerful anthropomorphic cartoon shopping cart who rattled off a five-point bulleted list on why these carts were such a super duper idea and great for everybody. It was basically a ridiculous attempt to put a happy face on the straightforward economical reason, but you can't put up a sign with an angry cartoon shopping cart yelling, "hey, you homeless fuckers, quit stealin' our goddam carts!"

(Postscript: for all the things I smiled at or boggled at when I visited Germany, the ubiquitous pay-to-use-the-restroom thing struck me as most alien and offensive. I...I have to have E0.50 if I want to pee? Wha? But I did go into one free public restroom in Munich and OH MY GOD. Weird, the little things that seem so big somehow.)
posted by cortex at 7:08 AM on February 6, 2007


When I was in high school I worked as a bagboy at the Piggly Wiggly on the poor side of town, and it was owned by two brothers. One of the bag boy's responsibilities was the bagging of ice. They had an ice machine in the back, and plastic bags and a plastic shovel, and I used to spend hours shoveling ice into plastic bags and tying them up and stacking them up, and then taking them to the ice machine in the front. I used to love it. It just appealed to me somehow. It was my favorite thing to do at work. Once one of the brothers came back to the ice machine while I was doing this and talked to me about what a great income source the ice machine was. He told me that it costs pennies a bag for him to make the ice and bag it, but that he sold the bags for like $3 each. That is a huge profit. It also sold like hotcakes too. He explained that lots of our customers didn't have refrigerators (the poor side of town in a small town in South Carolina is very poor), so if they wanted to keep anything cool, they had to come and buy his ice. He was making the point that it is easier to make money off of poor people despite the fact that they don't have much money, specifically because they are so disadvantaged by being poor, than it is to make money off of rich people. That point has stayed with me.

Anyway, being that these people were so poor that they didn't have refrigerators, they certainly didn't have cars, and so they would push the buggies home with them, sometimes over several miles, in order to get their groceries home. Then the other brother would have a couple of bagboys hop into his pickup truck and drive through the surrounding area and have us pick up the buggies and put them in the back of his truck. I remember they saw it as an annoyance, but it was kind of looked upon as one of the costs of doing business. I didn't like it, because many of the people would have mean dogs that I would have to avoid while going into their yard and getting our buggy back. It also got a little crowded in the back of that truck with a couple of bag boys and a bunch of carts.

I don't know what my point is exactly. I just remember riding around in the back of that pickup going to pick up buggies. Once the brother that used to ride us around in his truck used that opportunity to ask me if I was saved. He was a total dick. I hated when he was in charge of the store. The other brother that told me about the ice was a nice guy. I always hoped he was running the store when I was working.
posted by ND¢ at 7:19 AM on February 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


When I was in college, I lived in an apartment building that was less than two blocks from a supermarket, and just as close to the University. As you can imagine, there were a lot of non-driving students living there, and lots of "borrowed" shopping carts lying about.

Considering how close the apartment was to the store, you would think the supermarket could send a stockboy to retrieve the carts, but they hired "bounty hunters", a couple of middle-aged guys who would sneak into the complex early in the morning and shove the carts into a van.

Yes, I said a van. Watching them try to rearrange and pack carts into a standard van was fun. It was one part post-industrial ballet, and one part packing problem: Shove a cart in, yank the whole stack out, add a cart, spin the stack around, shove the whole thing back in, and "CLANG! Done!" I like to imagine those guys as unacknowledged mathematical geniuses, world experts in the neglected scientific discipline of cart-into-van packing.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 7:20 AM on February 6, 2007


My wife and I were discussing this yesterday, while stuck in traffic on Richmond in Houston, somewhere between Voss and Gessner. The area is full of (low-income) apartment complexes, and near a Wal-Mart, so of course there were a ton of carts around.

What was perplexing was seeing a couple of the newer "plastic" carts with the (Home Depot) Expo Design Center logo on them - the EDC had closed at least six months previous, and the location is now an Academy Sports. I guess at the end, they just wrote off any missing carts.
posted by mrbill at 7:40 AM on February 6, 2007


The coin-in-the-cart thing encourages people to return carts where they belong. Clever, that, in my opinion. Annoying though, when you don't have the right coin. Someone worked around this by supplying customers with plastic discs the correct size. Can't spend those!

And Cortex, German restrooms tend to be amongst the cleanest, even in places you'd least expect it (train stations), because you pay. Mind, towards the end of my stay there, the local train station had gotten INSANE by charging way too much (perhaps the person in charge was fond of the smell of urine in places it didn't belong, I dunno).
posted by Goofyy at 7:47 AM on February 6, 2007


PontifexPrimus: In Europe, as far as I have observed, almost all of them are now fitted with locks and have to have a one euro or 50 cent coin inserted before they can be removed from their parking rows.

cortex: Each cart has a small electronic "boot" on one wheel, and if the cart moves outside some allowable area (probably some tens of feet beyond the exterior bounds of the store), the boot locks and the wheel stops spinning. I've also seen (or, rather, heard) carts that give off an audio warning when outside the perimeter.

God, this makes perfect sense, doesn't it? We Americans spend a fortune developing technology to solve a problem that Europeans fixed with social modifications. Yes, most of our carts are "free range," with exceptions in the airport, as cortex mentioned, and the mall. Those are "fee" carts; the only place I've seen "deposit" carts are at Aldi, a very spartan, low-end grocery.

Excellently compiled post, btw, amyms.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:52 AM on February 6, 2007


And Cortex, German restrooms tend to be amongst the cleanest, even in places you'd least expect it (train stations), because you pay.

No disagreement here; the restrooms were very well maintained, generally well-lit, etc. Public restrooms in the US can be a bit of a crapshoot [horrific, evocative pun not intended but upon reflection left to stand] but in most commercial settings are well maintained.

The free public restroom I mention from Munich was a literal shithole—I remember thinking, "ooh, free restroom!" and then wheeling back out of it as soon as I could (having had to urinate quite badly). I have seen as bad a restroom once or twice in the US, always equally public and equally unattended; what strikes me is how the contrast between two distinct poles in German restrooms was so much more stark than the long continuum from great-to-gross in public and semi-public American restrooms.

I don't even disagree in any specific principled way about the charge-for-use model—especially since in auto-turnstile (rather than attended) facilities it would be trivial to fink on the payment if you had no change—but it was an oddly visceral shock to encounter. That my ability to void myself was an explicit economic transaction was disorienting.

But that's fuckall about shopping carts, so I'll stop talking about it.
posted by cortex at 8:04 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I live in a townhouse complex, which is directly adjacent to a supermarket's parking lot. As you can guess, there are a /lot/ of shopping carts strewn about. When the store revamped itself with a new name last year, they put $0.25-coin deposit boxes on each cart, with a chain; the theory is, when the carts are all pushed together, the chain from one reaches the box from the other, and pushing it in pops your quarter back out. The chain couldn't reach its own box

This was, I believe, supposed to reduce carts that wandered off.

It took me less than a day after the introduction of these things to notice the local solution... carts were still randomly distributed about the place, except now they were in pairs, each of them with the chain linked to the other's box.
posted by DataPacRat at 8:05 AM on February 6, 2007


I noticed that when I was visiting my Austrian friend, her market actually sells customers a little key thingie that can detach from a keychain & be put into a cart handle. Until you put the key in, you can't pull the cart out to use it, and you can't get the key back until you put it back into its little nesting area.

Since we do have free range carts I hadn't seen that, but it's pretty brilliant, really. Every time I'm near Marshalls I end up having to gauge whether to shop or not based on if I can secure a cart. And then I have to guard the cart while I'm shopping because if you don't, cartless people apparently think it's okay to throw all of your shopping items on some shelf and then walk away with the empty cart. I've had this happen numerous times where I saw someone do it, walked up to them and said "That's my cart. Why did you just throw my things over there? I've been shopping for 20 minutes with this cart." They actually responded, "I don't know what you're talking about. This is my cart. I don't know where your cart is." even though I saw them do it with my OWN FREAKING EYES. A few times I didn't catch the thief in time though... and with no other carts or baskets around I just walked out of the store in frustration rather than carry it all by hand cursing like a Tourrette's victim.

People suck sometimes. Oh, the humanity brought about by shopping carts!
posted by miss lynnster at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2007


I read (in a paper) years ago that shopping carts cost around $600 each.

Quite a few grocery stores around here have those radio devices on the carts that locks the wheels up if they are taken from the parking lot.
posted by drstein at 9:19 AM on February 6, 2007


One thing that I wonder about—what's the state of the art for zero-budget locking-cart countermeasures? How easy is it to break that system, and with how much collatoral damage to the cart? At what rate is this sort of thing happening? And what's the respective cost of a vanilla vs. teched-up cart?
posted by cortex at 9:23 AM on February 6, 2007


God, this makes perfect sense, doesn't it? We Americans spend a fortune developing technology to solve a problem that Europeans fixed with social modifications.

Social modifications? The coin-op locks on the carts are a type of technology. Just less advanced and more annoying, in that the proximity system doesn't require any effort for non cart thieves.
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on February 6, 2007


I've had this happen numerous times where I saw someone do it, walked up to them and said "That's my cart. Why did you just throw my things over there? I've been shopping for 20 minutes with this cart."

That's crazy, I looked up where you lived because I can't imagine people doing that around here. Is This the marshals you shop at?

I try to avoid leaving my cart sitting around, worried that some store person might claim it, but I'm amazed that people would actually steal a cart like that...
posted by delmoi at 11:16 AM on February 6, 2007


And what's the respective cost of a vanilla vs. teched-up cart?

The article I linked to under the word crime says that shopping carts cost an average of $100, and an additional $75 for the ones with high-tech anti-theft features... But I just noticed that the article is from 2000, so I'll bet prices have changed a lot since then.
posted by amyms at 11:22 AM on February 6, 2007


who knows what those carts get up to once they leave the mall?

I love that sentence, tellurian... It makes me imagine that all of the lost shopping carts are off on big adventures. :)
posted by amyms at 11:25 AM on February 6, 2007


Well, I had it happen once at the Marshalls on Market in SF & once at the big TJ Maxx down by Sunnyvale. I caught both of those people though because it happened regularly to me when I lived in Los Angeles so I learned to be on cart watch. (NO L.A. bashing comments please, 'cuz it's clearly not just an L.A. thing.) The worst is when you have a packed cart & you go into the dressing room and when you come out there is NO CART ANYWHERE. Grrrr.

When you catch people in the act & you're standing there watching them nonchalantly emptying out your cart? And then they blatantly lie about what you just watched them do? It's really kind of astounding. Never ceases to shock me. Some people are such horrible liars yet they keep talking.

****
Suddenly I have an image of shopping cart gangs rolling around the mean streets... running down old ladies & stuff.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:59 PM on February 6, 2007


Hey amyms, your post was mentioned in LAist!
posted by amro at 9:50 AM on February 7, 2007


Hey amyms, your post was mentioned in LAist!

Ohmigosh, that's so cool! Thanks, amro! :)
posted by amyms at 10:40 AM on February 7, 2007


tellurian, buggies are what Canadians call shopping carts. Weird, I know. On the plus side, they use the "coin release" system so people will return them to the buggie corrals and get their coin back. Seeing a buggy in the wild is a rare thing.
posted by deborah at 2:29 PM on February 7, 2007


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