City targets stores' lost carts

Fed-up officials consider mandating antitheft devices or sending stern letters to retailers whose carts have become eyesores.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published September 2, 2007

Abandoned shopping carts are a ubiquitous part of St. Petersburg's landscape.

They are the Swiss Army knife of low-income living, found in parks or near highway overpasses, filled with the worldly possessions of a homeless person. They can be seen in alleyways or on sidewalks throughout the city, left behind by residents who had no other way to get their groceries home.

In other words, they are everywhere they are not supposed to be.

Now, city officials, fed up with getting an eyeful of shopping carts at every street corner, are considering forcing retailers to guard their carts more closely.

During a Policy and Planning Committee meeting Thursday, city officials discussed possible solutions to the shopping cart problem, including passing a city ordinance that would require businesses to protect their shopping carts or simply sending a firm letter of disapproval to corporate and local retail branches.

"The fact of the matter is carts don't belong in the community, either way it goes," council member Rene Flowers said of the potential solutions.

Derelict shopping carts are not a new issue.

In years past, city officials have reached out to the business community about the situation, who in turn promised they would guard their property more closely. But only a few stores have taken action, and city officials said the honor system is not working.

Council member Jamie Bennett said the carts are everywhere.

"We don't want them in the neighborhoods," he said. "We don't want them to leave the [retailer's] property."

Not only are the carts unsightly, it also can be costly to get rid of them, city officials said.

The disposal of unclaimed shopping carts, most of which come from chain stores such as Walgreens, Winn-Dixie and Publix, amounts to an annual $20,000 trash bill, said William Sundstrom, sanitation coordinator.

City officials collect the abandoned carts and try to reach out to businesses about recovering the stolen property, Sundstrom said. But if the carts are not picked up within one month, the city then delivers them to a local metal recycling center.

Local outlets of Home Depot, Save-A-Lot and Sweetbay already use antitheft systems designed to keep carts in their parking lots.

City Attorney John Wolfe said the city could not fine businesses that do not use an antitheft system on their carts.

Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets, said employees are asked to bring shopping carts from the parking lot to the storefront and at least two St. Petersburg stores do have antitheft devices on their carts.

"As a retailer we do our part," she said. "It makes good business sense for us. We know we need to retain our shopping carts to retain our customers, so it's not something that we need to be told to do."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.