Cindy Ellen Russell / firstname.lastname@example.org
Two unattended shopping carts were parked yesterday evening under a tarp along Ala Moana Beach Park. Isle merchants struggle to corral the growing problem of "disappearing" shopping carts that carry an expensive price tag.
Carts on the run
Stores try to close the gate to keep carts on the reservation
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Supermarkets, drugstores and big-box retailers are facing a growing economic problem in Hawaii: the loss of shopping carts, which can cost up to $200 apiece.
Some of them have been appropriated by homeless people for their belongings.
But many others have simply been "borrowed" by customers to get their shopping items home or to take cans and bottles to recycling centers.
Many stores send out employees to scour the neighborhoods for abandoned carts much like cowboys of old looked for stray cattle. But many carts are never found.
One merchant reported having to spend $80,000 in a two-year period to replace carts.
Some retailers, including Don Quijote and five Times outlets, have begun installing $100 electronic locks that freeze carts' wheels at the property line.
In May the city started a pilot project under which police officers who spot abandoned carts notify Retail Merchants of Hawaii, which passes the location on to the owner.
Courtesy Honolulu Police Department
Abandoned carts sit on Akepo Lane near a bottle recycling redemption center in Kalihi.
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Before Don Quijote installed electronic locks on the wheels of its shopping carts, customers would arrive to find no carts even though employees were picking up abandoned carts on the street eight hours a day.
About a year and a half ago, management installed a wheel-locking device to reduce cart theft, which has helped, said store manager Max Martin.
"The key here is we have shopping carts for customers now," he said.
To help retailers and to clean up abandoned carts, the city recently started a pilot project for carts on public property and passed a new law dealing with abandoned property in parks.
Retail Merchants of Hawaii President Carol Pregill said abandoned carts pose a growing problem in Honolulu, although no one has collected statistics or gathered the cost of stolen carts for Hawaii's retail industry.
Stolen carts can be a tall expense, with carts costing between $100 and $200 each, and retailers have to pay employees just to retrieve them.
One merchant reported having to spend $80,000 in a two-year period to replace carts, Pregill said.
Some retailers have tried other anti-theft devices, such as the quarter lock that requires a quarter to be opened, but abandoned it after customers found it inconvenient, Pregill said.
All retailers want to get their carts back for themselves and to help the community, said Times Supermarkets Director of Operations Bob Stout.
To help alleviate cart theft, five of six Times stores in the Honolulu area have installed wheel locks that cost about $100 each for the 150 or so carts at a store, he said.
There are ways around the locks, like breaking them or just dragging the cart away, but Stout said it is a deterrent and keeps the carts close by. He said the cost of installing the cart locks is not passed on to the customer.
Pregill said the number of stolen and abandoned carts has grown along with the number of beverage container recycling centers. People use carts to bring in their recyclables and leave them there, she said.
As a possible solution, the city started a pilot project in May. If a police officer sees an abandoned cart, the officer e-mails Retail Merchants of Hawaii, a trade group that represents 200 members. The group then e-mails the cart owner explaining where the owner can find the cart.
Police say the pilot project gives police officers more time to address real crime.
Honolulu police Maj. Kurt Kendro, who heads the Police Department's involvement in the cart project, said if retailers do not report the cart stolen, there is no crime.
Retailers often do not report cart theft because some customers are using carts to take their groceries home or they are sensitive to homeless using their carts to move their belongings, he said.
Hubert Minn, chairman of the city committee for the abandoned-cart project, said the city is waiting for retailers to supply data about how many carts they are retrieving to see whether the project is successful.
He said he does not think the problem of stolen carts will ever be solved, but he hopes the pilot project will be one way to manage and control the shopping carts.
In addition to the pilot project, a city law, supported by the Retail Merchants of Hawaii and enacted this month, allows the city to charge owners of abandoned property found in a city park a fine to pick up their property, including retailers and their shopping carts.
Department of Parks and Recreation Director Les Chang said some city parks near recycling centers see hundreds of abandoned carts a week.
When dealing with carts, the law relies on the Parks Department to notify the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, which in turn notifies the retailer that the retailer's cart has been found.
The retailer has 72 hours to pick up the property for free or pay a fine to recover the cart. After 30 days the city can sell or dispose of the property. There is no fine if the owner refuses to pick up the property and the fine has not been determined.
Retailers will not pick up their cart if someone's belongings are in it, said Pregill, of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii.
"It's a social issue that we (retailers) are not going to be able to solve," she said. "Every retailer I talked to doesn't want to have a confrontation. If we can recover it, then we will."