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Shopping carts clutter the city

Red, blue and brown colored shopping carts can be seen littering street corners, bus stops and business parking lots in downtown Federal Way near Pacific Avenue South.

The abandoned carts are an eyesore and frustration for some homeowners — and an expensive piece of equipment to collect or replace for some business owners.

On Aug. 23, eight shopping carts could be seen on the corner of 20th Avenue South and South 330th Street. The carts — from Petco, Rite Aid, Ross, Trader Joe’s, Paldo Plaza and Federal Way Grocery Outlet — were piled atop and inside one another. One lay on its side broken, another lay full of leaves.

The abandoned carts have been there for more than a week, said Joli Francis, who lives on the corner opposite the carts. Last week, 10 to 15 had accumulated on the same corner, she said.

Francis has lived in her home for 10 years. The area has always attracted abandoned shopping carts, but recently, the carts have been left there in large numbers, she said.

“It has become a dumping ground,” Francis said.

A few blocks away, four more abandoned shopping carts could be seen strewn across the grass near the entrance to Bob Bjorneby’s Federal Way Collision at 1750 S. 327th St. A drive north on Pacific Highway South revealed three more carts at a bus stop near the Elephant Car Wash at 31458 Pacific Highway S.

Francis is not sure how the carts around town came to be located where they are now, but she has her suspicions. Francis suspects that people who do not own vehicles walk to the shopping centers, then use the carts to transport their groceries back home — leaving the carts abandoned when they are finished with them, she said.

Francis has seen children in her neighborhood ride the carts down the streets, furthering the spread of the abandoned carts near her home, she said.

Retrieving stray carts

Federal Way asks residents to report stray carts.

Until a few weeks ago, new police recruits assisted in picking up the abandoned carts. Public works personnel sometimes return carts found on public property, code compliance officer Becky Lemke said. Lemke has also personally notified storeowners when she has found abandoned carts, she said.

“I was finding (the abandoned carts) were not getting picked up,” Lemke said. Collecting the abandoned shopping carts is ultimately the responsibility of the carts’ owners, she added.

Shopping cart retrieval is approached by business owners throughout the city in a few different ways.

Safeway hires a company to collect the carts. Target does not search for its missing shopping carts, manager Jason Feeley said. Owners, managers and employees at Trader Joe’s and the Federal Way Grocery Outlet pick up abandoned shopping carts themselves when they are aware of their location.

Trader Joe’s manager Mike Hoffman knows carts are stolen from his establishment, but does not consider the theft significant, he said.

“It’s never really been an issue here,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman replaces his carts once a year. People rarely report abandoned Trader Joe’s shopping carts, but when they do, Hoffman will retrieve the cart himself or have one of his employees do so.

Howard Byrne, owner of the Federal Way Grocery Outlet, collects his store’s carts once a week, he said. Usually, the process takes about two hours and Byrne is able to retrieve an average of 10 carts, he said. The grocery store recently purchased new carts from the Burien Grocery Outlet in May.

Bill Iverson owns the Burien Grocery Outlet. Like Byrne, he also scours his city looking for abandoned shopping carts that belong at his store. Iverson spends about six hours a week searching for his carts, he said.

The number one high-priced item stolen from the Burien Grocery Outlet is shopping carts, Iverson said. The cost of the shopping cart theft totals more than that of bad checks, he said.

Annually, Iverson buys approximately 300 carts at a price of $100 each. He estimates that five or six carts are stolen daily. In the 12 years Iverson has owned his business, he has suffered a loss of $60,000 to $75,000 to replace and retrieve shopping carts, he said.

In Federal Way, shopping cart theft and abandonment may not amount to Iverson’s experiences, but it is a problem, Lemke said.

However, at least one church group has shown an interest in retrieving abandoned shopping carts, she said. She is unsure as to when the group will perform its community service, but said the carts may be retrieved in the next month.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Report it:

To report abandoned shopping carts, fill out an Icon Citizen Action Request form and drop it off at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S., or call (253) 835-2617.

Legal issues:

Some cities have explored options for keeping the abandoned carts where they belong.

Fining store owners for carts found off their stores’ premises has been considered, code compliance officer Becky Lemke said. Federal Way does not take this approach.

“Instead of putting the burden on the merchant, put it back on the people stealing the cart,” said Bill Iverson, who owns the Burien Grocery Outlet.

Iverson said he would like to see cities pass a law that prohibits the use of shopping carts on sidewalks. This would make it easier to hold the person who stole the cart responsible for his or her actions, he said. Store owners would not need to press charges if such an ordinance were in place, said Iverson, who is also unhappy with how King County addresses abandoned shopping carts.

Taking shopping carts off an owner’s property is considered theft, Lemke said. But a person would have to be caught with the cart in hand, and the cart’s owner must press charges for the theft of the property before police can address the problem, she said.

Furthermore, according to Revised Code of Washington 9A.56.270, a sign of ownership, as well as a telephone number and address where abandoned carts can be returned, must be present on a shopping cart to charge someone with the misdemeanor crime of stealing the property.

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