People like to bash the suburbs for everything from cookie-cutter homes to water-sucking, park-like lawns to super-sized shopping centers that force people to drive. But the inner city has a few problems of its own — and walkability, oddly, is one of them. At least when it comes to those miniature shopping carts that some of the grocery chains rolled out a few years ago.
"What happened to the grocery carts?" a Capitol Hill shopper asked us. "About a year ago, King Soopers introduced these cool little grocery carts that were bigger than a handheld basket but smaller than the big, giant limo carts. They were perfect for getting a few groceries in, and because they were small, you could maneuver around other shoppers more easily. Great, too, for older people who can't manage the giant ones. Then they started to disappear, and now they're all gone. I was told by a worker at Ninth and Corona that people were stealing them as fast as they could put them out. And they cost something like $250 apiece. I think it's disgusting that now they're all sitting in people's garages and yards, collecting dust. Maybe a nice Westword exposé would shame the greedy nitwits who felt they had to steal them, though I doubt they'll return them."
No exposé needed: We obtained a quick confession. "It's true. They just get stolen," says King Soopers spokeswoman Kelli McGannon. "And, yes, people did like them, apparently so much that they brought them home. We kept replacing them and they keep stealing them."
The problem is worse in urban areas — not just in Capitol Hill, but at other stores in neighborhoods where people could simply roll away with the carts rather than have to carry their groceries home to their apartments, condos or houses.
But after McGannon took a trip to the King Soopers at 1155 East Ninth Avenue on Monday to check out the scene, she reports that there are still plenty of the smaller carts available. Still, the company is looking into adding technology that locks the wheels of the carts once they go a certain distance from the store; most of the larger carts are already equipped with it. In fact, those locks have been so efficient on the big carts that the chain has pretty much done away with the cart-retrieval truck that used to roam neighborhood streets, looking for stolen carts left in alleys and on sidewalks.
But if the smaller carts, which are easier to hide in garages and on porches, keep disappearing, King Soopers may come up with another solution: simply stop ordering new ones. "At some point," McGannon notes, "you have to stop, because it's just not viable anymore."
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And cart theft isn't the only trouble that King Soopers has had with shopping-cart innovations. In February 2011, the grocery company unveiled its first TVKart, a car-shaped shopping cart complete with a TV inside for kids to watch while they rode around the stores. At the time, McGannon told news outlets that the goal was to entertain the kids so that their parents could shop in peace. The TVs played animated Disney videos, but they also included a second screen that played ads for products available in the store.
All thirty Denver stores were supposed to get three TVKarts apiece. But then the company that made them — Illinois-based Cabco Group Limited — went out of business. It was a victim of the bad economy, McGannon says — not pilfering parents trying to keep their kids quiet.
Big-boxed out: The developer who wants to put a Walmart near the corner of Eighth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard has more to contend with than missing shopping carts. One neighborhood group, Mayfair Neighbors, has posted an online survey at www.mayfairdenver.org, asking residents' opinions. And as of Monday, 91 percent of the respondents had said they are opposed or strongly opposed to the store, according to StopWalmartColorado.com, while only 5 percent support it.