Shopping cart

Gainesville set to force companies to regulate shopping cart containment

Mark Cowan sees fewer abandoned shopping carts ravaging his Gainesville neighborhood than when he complained to city officials in 2019.

“I think something good happened,” said Cowan, 67, who lives near the ED Manning Jr. administration annex in southwest Gainesville. “I used to see them in more places.”

What happened? In August, the city commission passed an ordinance requiring businesses to install retention systems to prevent their shopping carts from being dumped in the community.

“It sounds like a good idea to me,” Cowan said of the order, which went into effect Nov. 6.

Businesses that don’t have a shopping cart retention system risk a $250 fine for each violation.

“We are not trying to penalize anyone in any way,” Commissioner Gigi Simmons said. “We’re just trying to keep our communities safe.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos recalled not reporting an abandoned cart he saw near his house last year, saying he wanted to see how long it would take for the cart to be removed.

“It took weeks,” Hayes-Santos said.

Several possible retention plans are described in the order. A wheel lock mechanism activated by an electronic barrier around the perimeter of the location is an option. Another is a refundable deposit required for customers using an onsite shopping cart. Stores that have already implemented adequate measures must always inform the city so that this is recorded.

The city sent letters about the ordinance to 135 local business owners, said Juan Castillo, an urban planner who works in the city’s sustainability department. As of last week, no citations had yet been issued to companies, as only three retention plan applications had been approved. All three companies already had a retention system in place, Castillo said.

Castillo said the city is reviewing seven pending applications. In the meantime, if someone complains that a company is not complying with the order, they could still be penalized, he said.

Gainesville is one of 33 Florida counties and municipalities that regulate shopping carts.

Florida law requires owners to retrieve their abandoned carts when notified of their location. Some cities impose penalties and additional fees for being off their property.

Ocala’s order requires shopping cart owners to implement retention systems unless the company files an exemption request. Gainesville stores do not have this option.

Gina Hawkins, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, said the ordinance should help address environmental issues attributed to abandoned carts. Hawkins said his team had removed some from streams in the past because they contributed to flooding and damage to natural habitats.

“We’ve wanted something like this for over 20 years,” she says.

However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the ordinance. Prashant Patel, owner of India Bazaar, an Indian grocery store located southwest of 34th Street, doesn’t think his business needs a cart-holding system.

“We have good customers,” Patel said. “They use the caddies and put them back.”

The store recently had a sign posted near its cart storage area asking customers to return them to the designated area. The extras were chained to a corral for added security.

Shopping carts can cost as much as $200 apiece, said Rossana Passaniti, public information manager for Gainesville. The cost of containment systems varies depending on the type installed and the number of carts a store has. For large retail stores, this can cost thousands of dollars.

When Kissimmee first tried to implement a shopping cart ordinance in 2000, it was met with resistance from members of the Florida Retail Federation. The federation argued that the measure was unconstitutional under state law. A state circuit court judge agreed, but an appeals court overturned that decision, arguing that the city’s order was constitutional.

Costs associated with the Kissimmee measure were limited to the expense of keeping carts on owner property, not fines for those on public property.

Passaniti said Gainesville’s order could prove useful in helping affected businesses save money.

“By keeping the ones they have, they wouldn’t have to replace them at additional cost,” she said.

Simmons said the community is already benefiting since the measure was approved.

“Implementing an abandoned shopping cart ordinance is one way to ensure our residents are safe and their neighborhoods are clean and beautiful,” she said.