Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

“Wandering” shopping carts are an ongoing problem in the Bailey’s Crossroads area and other commercial sectors of Mason District. Shopping carts, once the exclusive province of grocery stores, are provided as a convenience at many popular shopping centers.

The convenience that shoppers enjoy inside the store was never meant to be a “take home” gift but, unfortunately, some shoppers use the cart in lieu of a car to take purchases home.

Once home, what happens to the cart? It gets left at the corner, or at the bus stop, where it seems to attract other carts, blocks the sidewalk, and some, eventually, may end up in local streams.

A shopping cart is not inexpensive — I’ve heard estimates of $300 and up — so why don’t store owners do more to ensure that their carts don’t leave the parking lot, or make an effort to round up strays in nearby neighborhoods? Seems like cart retrieval actually could become a small business opportunity for someone.

To address the issue of abandoned shopping carts, the Board of Supervisors sought the assistance of the Virginia General Assembly (GA) for enabling legislation that would grant enforcement authority to the county.

In the 2020 session, the GA passed legislation that would allow the county to issue a Notice of Violation to the owner of an abandoned cart.

If the cart remained abandoned for 15 days, the county could remove it and charge the owner up to $300 per cart removed. The legislation further allowed a penalty of up to $500 for any person who “possessed” a cart outside of the premises of the cart owner.

The 2020 legislation does not require businesses to collect their offsite shopping carts unless a Notice of Violation has been issued and fines are collected.

It also does not require businesses to have an abandoned cart prevention plan to prevent removal from the premises. Finally, the 2020 legislation does not allow the county to establish a more effective ordinance that meets the needs of Fairfax County and its residents.

The Board’s Land Use Policy Committee considered the pros and cons of a draft ordinance at its meeting on July 20, 2021 and determined that neither the enabling legislation nor the draft ordinance will provide relief from abandoned shopping carts in our communities.

Enforcement would be very difficult — a cart could stay on the corner for 15 days! — and many carts no longer have the store name attached, making ownership hard to prove.

Enforcement probably would require additional staff and equipment — at taxpayer expense — as potential fines would not come close to covering the expenses incurred by the county.

The real solution to wandering shopping carts rests with the store owners and managers. Shopping cart losses can affect the bottom line, so it is puzzling why the responsible parties aren’t doing more to resolve the issue. Perhaps a friendly chat from their customers (talk with the manager, not the clerk) could move them to action. It’s all part of good business!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]