Shopping Cart Theory, and Practice

The next time you go to the grocery store, consider the ordinary shopping cart as something more than a rattling basket blocking your parking space.

In the 1930s, an American grocer named Sylvan Goldman invented the precursor to the modern day shopping cart, using a folding frame that was fixed on a set of wheels. He hoped that people would buy more groceries if they did not have to carry heavy baskets as they browsed.

And they did.

But over the decades, the shopping cart has evolved from its mundane existence as the centerpiece of every grocery store run.

Like the Campbell’s Soup can, it has become an unlikely icon in a subculture that celebrates the common object.

“I want to say it is almost kind of selfish,” he said. “It is kind of a test of character. It is our job to pick up after people, but if it is the smallest thing you can do to help out, I feel like it is not a lot to help out a little bit.”

One student said anyone who noticed a wayward cart should just return it. Another warned against rushing to judgment. Mr. Graber agreed.

“It seems to be a popular belief now that people who leave their shopping carts in places are lacking in values and morals,” he said. But that belief “does not allow for growth or grace.”

One of the supervisors, Dalia A. Palchik, said that had been her childhood experience.

As immigrants from Argentina in 1989, Ms. Palchik said, she and her three siblings often accompanied their mother to the store and then pushed the cart to their rental house on the edge of Fairfax City. They had no car available.

The memory came flooding back during the discussion. “It was one of those things I was ashamed of as a kid,” she said in an interview. “Why are we criminalizing people trying to get to the grocery store?”

The ordinance is still under consideration.

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