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Federal Way now making grocery stores pay for stolen carts

The City of Federal Way is taking action to deal with abandoned shopping carts. (File photo)

Stolen shopping carts are a common sight on sidewalks and under overpasses throughout the region — but in Federal Way, grocery store owners will have to pay to get those carts back, thanks to a new ordinance passed by the Federal Way City Council.

Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said that the fine imposed per cart represents a quarter the price of the entire cart to begin with, adding up to a cost that already-struggling retailers will have difficulty absorbing.

“The $25-per-cart penalty is really, really steep,” he told KTTH’s Todd Herman, filling in on the Dori Monson Show. “The carts are only $100 [each], so they’re probably going to make the situation worse, and then that’s going to put pressure on pricing, particularly for a smaller retailer in the area.”

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Stolen and abandoned shopping carts are a plague not just in Federal Way, he said, but throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. A common thread is for cities to automatically put the blame and responsibility on business owners, rather than on the people who stole the shopping carts in the first place.

“City councils tend to then say to the retailer, ‘What are you going to do about it?'” Gilliam said.

The retailers and cities have come up with compromises, he said, but in the Federal Way case, they didn’t have “the kind of conversation they should have” with all of the grocery stores before passing the ordinance.

Gilliam does not know what interactions that the city may have had with other retailers, but he said that the members of his association — Safeway and Fred Meyer — were “caught off guard” by the new law, which is set to go into effect in January.

“We’ve contacted the city after this; we have some solutions that we can offer the city to try to make this particular situation better, and make it work,” he said, adding, “Hopefully, we can work with the city council to straighten it out.”

Grocery stores in the region are already going through a tough enough time without having to pay for stolen carts, Gilliam said. He explained that in recent years, “the homeless population,” combined with “not enough police response,” has made shoplifting a huge problem for retailers.

When the safety of employees and shoppers is at stake, he said, stores have to take the material loss to prevent the human one.

“There’s been a lot of personal harm come to the employees, so that at some point, you have to weigh what it is you’re going to stop, and what the person might do to that employee,” he said.

In some cases, he said, the shoplifters “literally will just knock out the clerk who is trying to stop them.”

According to Gilliam, these crimes have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for grocery stores across the West Coast, which is reflected in the prices that families must pay for their basic groceries.

“What’s tough, in the grocery business, particularly, [is that] you’re operating on about a percent-and-a-half net margin,” he said. “So there’s not a lot of room when you have people taking and stealing and causing costs to go up — it shows up pretty quickly in the price of goods … with a low margin like that, anything like theft and those types of things come right through the bottom line very quickly.”

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