News

Go home, little shopping cart

By DANIEL BEEKMAN

The Mirror

Federal Way is littered with abandoned shopping carts. You’ll find them stranded outside apartment buildings, rolled down ravines and flipped upside down at bus stops. Supermarket managers consider stray carts a nuisance and city officials think there’s a real problem.

Kevin Crossen is sure he can help.

Crossen owns and operates Cart Recovery, a part-time business he started almost two years ago. The 35-year old Federal Way native works with grocery stores to rid city streets of the shopping carts.

“A lot of people walk to the store,” Crossen said. “They use the carts to carry groceries home and don’t wheel them back. They get abandoned outside apartments and in parks. People sit on overturned carts while they wait for the bus. The stores eventually send out a (truck to recover the carts), but that’s months later. Meanwhile, the carts are all over the city.”

A few days each week, Crossen rises early to avoid traffic and goes out cart-collecting. He makes his rounds in a large utility trailer plastered with Cart Recovery advertising. The trailer holds about 30 carts, but it fills up fast.

Crossen is a full-time firefighter, and his familiarity with local streets makes him an efficient searcher. In fact, Crossen hit upon the idea for Cart Recovery during a fire department food drive. When volunteers mentioned they could use a shopping cart to hold donations, Crossen knew where to find some. He picked a few off the sidewalk and brought them in. After the food drive, he returned the carts to their store, and the store manager suggested he make a business of it.

Most of Crossen’s clients pay a flat monthly rate, averaging about $3 per cart retrieved. He said he returns an average of 40 carts a month to each store, although a few stores happily take back 20 a week.

His first client was Wal-Mart in Federal Way. Now he works with 10 stores across south King County.

Cart Recovery grew slowly at first, but thanks to a flurry of new legislation, Crossen’s venture has begun to take off.

In April, the city of Auburn passed a special shopping cart ordinance. The ordinance was the first of its kind in the south county area and allows fines of stores up to $100 for each shopping cart taken off the street. Renton recently adopted a similar ordinance that also requires stores to submit a written cart-management plan, and Crossen says Bellevue is considering the same.

It’s no coincidence that Cart Recovery has recently expanded into Auburn, Kent and Renton. Federal Way, on the other hand, hasn’t adopted a shopping cart ordinance.

“The cities don’t want to pick the carts up,” Crossen said. “They just want the problem addressed.”

Most store managers don’t have the time or energy to retrieve carts on their own. Crossen realizes the new rules are working to his advantage. In fact, Cart Recovery landed its biggest deal right after Auburn’s ordinance was passed. A regional director at Top Foods sensed the beginning of a trend and hired Crossen to collect carts for his stores in Kent and Federal Way, as well as Auburn.

“I think Kevin’s business is great,” said Sue Yarkosky, store director at Top Foods in Federal Way. “What he does solves two problems at once. It keeps the community from becoming unsightly and helps us find our carts as well.”

Many of his clients appreciate Crossen’s hot-line, which anyone can call if an abandoned cart needs to be collected. Crossen allows stores to give out the number and often responds to reports directly. He also uses a computer to track the location of the stray carts he finds. At regular intervals, he gives his clients maps that show where their carts are being abandoned.

“Kevin really communicates well,” Yarkosky said. “We used to get regular calls from apartment managers with ongoing cart problems. Now they call Kevin and we don’t even hear from them. I’ve seen a real difference driving around the community, too. I see other stores’ carts, but I never see ours.”

Yarkosky, who used to work at Top Foods in Auburn, is glad Federal Way hasn’t adopted a shopping cart ordinance yet. She said stores should be accountable for carts cluttering the community, but she wants the city government to stay out of it.

“I understand the reason for such an ordinance,” Yarkosky said. “But the city needs to recognize our stores do a lot for the community. What Kevin is doing is better. An ordinance would be a big mistake. ”

Federal Way community development director Kathy McClung said she is concerned about abandoned carts strewn across the city but isn’t convinced Crossen and Cart Recovery are the solution.

“We’ll be taking the cart issue to (the City Council) in the future because it’s a real safety problem and unattractive as well,” McClung said. “Abandoned carts give the impression that the city doesn’t care how it looks.”

McClung said Cart Recovery is one option among many. She said Federal Way officials are closely monitoring Auburn’s shopping cart legislation and mentioned the possibility of funneling more resources into city-sponsored, volunteer street sweeps.

Crossen said he won’t be surprised if Federal Way passes a cart ordinance of its own. For every store that has responded to his fliers, a handful continues to do nothing, he said.

Crossen likens King County’s growing shopping cart problem to that of southern California during the 1990s. At one time, thousands of carts were abandoned on streets there every week. Now every city has a shopping cart ordinance and the supermarkets pay a single cart-collecting company to take care of their problem.

Crossen, Yarkosky and McClung all agree that more King County stores should get involved.

“In Federal Way, you see carts everywhere,” Crossen said. “I pull about 250 a month off the streets. I’ve contacted all the stores, and some are interested. But most don’t think they have a problem. They’re going to ignore this until someone makes them deal with it.”

Regardless of official regulations and government machinations, south King County’s population continues to grow. That means more shoppers, more abandoned shopping carts and more business for Cart Recovery. Crossen expects to hire his first employee soon and wants to be collecting for every large store in the Puget Sound area two years from now, a volume of work he figures will require three full-time crews.

News intern Daniel Beekman: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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