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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

Shopping carts that go AWOL

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Clayton Yim is like a rancher looking after a wayward herd. As head of security for all Foodland and Sack 'N Save stores in Hawai'i, Yim is responsible for, besides other things, making sure every store has enough carts for customers.

But, oh, how those carts travel, like roaming cattle or migrating birds.

"We have had calls for a Foodland shopping cart out in Waimanalo," Yim says. "Now, what's the two closest stores? It would be either Kailua or Hawai'i Kai."

Yim has four full-time wranglers who drive around the island corralling wayward carts. They have their usual spots bus stops, certain apartment buildings but they also respond to cart sightings reported to Foodland's cart hotline.

Yim thinks people take carts out of necessity. It's the only way they can carry their groceries home or to the bus stop. But even with the recovery efforts, they have to order 200 to 300 replacement carts a year at a cost of several hundred dollars per cart.

"My wife thinks this is funny, but I tell her I hate watermelon season," says Yim. Walking home carrying a watermelon in a shopping bag is daunting. Carts make it much easier. The same thing happens with 20-pound Thanksgiving turkeys.

When there's big surf on the North Shore, folks go to the Pupukea store and load up on snacks for wave watching. Lots of times, the cart becomes part of the picnic.

" The next day, my guy has to go there and collect these carts. Sometimes, the beach is deserted and you see five, six, seven carts there in the sand."

Sometimes, it seems the carts go on an episodic journey, like the movie "The Red Violin." Yim recently spotted a cart from Foodland Ala Moana at the Kahala Mall. If only that cart could talk.

"I imagine it zig-zagged through the city, changed hands many times, served many purposes before it got to Kahala."

The quarter-deposit system doesn't work because 25 cents is a small price to pay for the convenience of wheeling your food home. A security sensor that locks one of the cart wheels if it's pushed out of the parking lot isn't fail-safe, either. People lift up that locked wheel and keep going on the remaining three.

Taking shopping carts is not considered illegal. In general, stores take a compassionate view and don't like to come down hard on cart-takers because customer service is so crucial.

"We want you to shop and use our carts," Yim says, "but it would be nice if you brought 'em back."

CALL RESCUE LINE

If you spot a Foodland shopping cart that wandered away from a store, call the cart hotline at 735-7246 so it can be rescued.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.