West St. Paul stems tide of wayward shopping carts

Carts from Wal-Mart make up the bulk of the stash collected by city volunteers at the West St. Paul public works facility. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Carts from Wal-Mart make up the bulk of the stash collected by city volunteers at the West St. Paul public works facility. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Terry Roche, left, and Richard Bakke strap down a tiny red cart they collected near the intersection of Marthaler Lane and Lothenbach Avenue. Since 2011, they’ve volunteered as “Cart Cops.”  (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Terry Roche, left, and Richard Bakke strap down a tiny red cart they collected near the intersection of Marthaler Lane and Lothenbach Avenue. Since 2011, they’ve volunteered as “Cart Cops.” (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
City volunteer Richard Bakke corrals a cart from Wal-Mart. Carts often end up at the bus stop along Robert Street near Wentworth Avenue, feet from the Wal-Mart parking lot. Wal-Mart is addressing the issue with a containment system. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
City volunteer Richard Bakke corrals a cart from Wal-Mart. Carts often end up at the bus stop along Robert Street near Wentworth Avenue, feet from the Wal-Mart parking lot. Wal-Mart is addressing the issue with a containment system. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Wal-Mart adding new containment system

“Aha! Now that’s your oddball!” yelled Richard Bakke, a longtime West St. Paul resident and city volunteer who has been wrangling wayward shopping carts since 2011.

On Dec. 12 near the intersection of Marthaler Lane and Lothenbach Avenue, Bakke and his fellow “Cart Cop” Terry Roche spotted a small, red basket from Family Dollar, a rare find among the bus stops, dumpsters and apartment garages on their route along the South Robert Street corridor. It’s often riddled with abandoned carts from area big-box retailers — K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target, Menards, Lowe’s and Cub Foods. The nearest Family Dollar is two miles away in South St. Paul.

The retired men pushed the cart onto a trailer hitched to a city pickup truck, strapped it down, and eventually dropped it at a stash that’s been accumulating since this fall behind the salt pile at the West St. Paul public works facility. It was a light day — only three carts added to the stockpile.

The most prolific contributors to the line of rounded-up carts have been Wal-Mart patrons, coming in at about double the next highest amount of carts collected the past couple years.

The store’s nearest bus stop on the corner of Robert and Wentworth Avenue is often crowded with shopping carts.

“They have carts piled up there all the time,” said John Ramsay, a South Robert Street Business Association member, adding it congests the sidewalk, as well as access to surrounding businesses.

Customers lug their bags of purchases to a bus stop, or even their apartments, and then dump the shopping carts in a ditch, behind a dumpster or on the road edges. But soon that will no longer be an option.

Wal-Mart plans to install a system to prevent shoppers from taking the carts off company property. The West St. Paul Target already has a similar system, which significantly tapered the number of abandoned red carts in the city.

Companies try to stem tide of wayward carts

At K-Mart, manager Judi Swenson said it’s a struggle to contain the four-wheeled baskets.

Despite efforts to keep track of them, she said her store takes a hit every year, because shoppers take carts outside of the parking lot and never return them.

Swenson estimated her store lost close to 50 carts last year, with replacement costs coming in at about $180 per cart. The city usually collects about 10 abandoned K-Mart carts each year.

“People in the neighborhood probably don’t think it’s a big issue until they get five or six carts in their yard,” she said.

Managers at the neighboring Wal-Mart store have sought assistance from corporate officials in Bentonville, Arkansas, to help stem the flow of stolen carts.

“I understand this has kind of been an ongoing issue in the community,” said Betsy Harden, Wal-Mart spokesperson. “We are actually in the process of getting a cart-containment system in place.”

A cart-containment system would secure the perimeter of the parking lot by locking up the cart wheels when shoppers attempt to take them past lot lines. Harden anticipates the system will be in place sometime this spring.

Target installed the locks on its carts in August.

“While the decision to add shopping cart locks is not new to Target, at this time, there is no plan to install shopping cart locks chain-wide,” said spokesperson Laurel Herold.

And the system seems to be helping. From 2013 to 2014, the Target carts collected by the city went from 13 to five, according to the police department’s tracking from October.

Both Target and Wal-Mart officials declined to answer how much the new shopping cart security measures cost to implement at their West St. Paul stores.

A longtime issue

West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver has a thick file devoted to shopping-cart issues.

He’s tried a variety of tactics to gather the carts, as they can become blights (“Not a good look,” as Bakke put it), and safety hazards, especially on the busy intersections where they’re often found.

In recent years, Shaver’s had the volunteer “Cart Cops” periodically collect the carts.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done with out them,” the chief said. The carts are then stored, until they’re returned to their respective businesses for a fee.

Using a formula that takes into account staff time, the cost of storage and mileage, Shaver will have the baskets returned for $7.50 each, a number that’s increased over the years, an incentive for the retailers to address the issue. Shaver estimated the cost to the city could be upwards of $20 per cart, especially if he has to pay someone to retrieve them.

In 2012, the city collected 250 carts. In 2013, there were about 200. Of those, Wal-Mart contributed 64 last year. The now-closed Rainbow Foods came in second with 36, and Cub Foods had 20.

The anti-theft systems are expected to not only reduce the issue overall, but they may give police options to punish the cart-pushing perpetrators.

Using the carts to make it to the bus stop isn’t quite considered theft, Shaver said, because most of the patrons don’t have “intent to permanently deprive” the retailers of them. But if customers still manage to bring the carts past the theft-deterrent line, there may be charges that could be filed against the shopper, he said.

Although shopping carts probably aren’t the most troublesome issue police deal with, it is something the community perceives as a problem, Shaver said. It’s common for the police department and city staff to receive complaints about the roving carts.

“You can’t forget about what’s important and a priority to the community,” he said. “People will call about carts — and barking dogs.”

A tale of two Cart Cops

Roche and Bakke, sometimes accompanied by a third volunteer, Ed Olriksen, have each lived in West St. Paul for around 40 years. Bakke, 67, is retired, but still working in TV with Fox Sports North and ESPN.

Roche, 72, retired in 1997 as a cable maintenance supervisor.

A few years ago, they wanted to volunteer more. The police chief recruited them through the city’s volunteer program.

Bakke and Roche have become recognized figures in the community, especially among the residents of apartments that are usual suspects.

Along with corralling hundreds of wayward carts over the years, they’ve also accumulated anecdotes.

Early on, they hit the motherload of carts. An apartment complex had collected and stored around 40 of them in a cavern-like storage area.

“It was a cave of carts!” Bakke said, adding that the cart borrowers have garnered at least one nickname from an apartment employee: “The Walkers.”

Snowplows have swept up carts, embedding the mangled metal and plastic into the frozen wake. The volunteers then chipped them out.

The lock on their trailer malfunctioned once, and carts rolled into Robert Street at a busy intersection. Luckily, the men were able to round up the carts without damaging any vehicles or injuring any passersby.

“It’s kind of fulfilling,” Bakke said. Since the beginning, they’ve found ways to goof off on the job — ribbing each other all along the way, daydreaming about letting the sirens rip on the police truck and printing up “missing” flyers for Olriksen when he spends too much time at his cabin.

“It’s kinda fun,” Bakke said.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com. Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


How many carts?

In 2012, the city collected 250 carts. In 2013, there were about 200. Of those, Wal-Mart contributed 64 last year. The now-closed Rainbow Foods came in second with 36, and Cub Foods had 20.

Carts collected in 2014 through October:
• 60 from Wal-Mart
• 32 from Rainbow
• 9 from Cub Foods
• 8 from K-Mart
• 5 from Target

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