High-tech shopping carts foiling would-be thieves at Harmons City Creek

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 7:46 p.m. MST

Every shopping cart at the new Harmons City Creek carries the Carttronics logo.

Lee Benson

SALT LAKE CITY — The newly opened downtown Harmons City Creek has sushi to go, latte to go, slices of pizza fresh from a 600-degree stone oven to go, salads to go, sandwiches to go — not to mention 69,000 square feet of groceries to go.

But there's one thing you can't take out.

The carts.

This isn't to say you shouldn't roll the shopping cart off store property. This is to say you couldn't.

No way. Not going to happen.

It would be easier to break out of San Quentin.

The much-anticipated addition to downtown has been open nearly a month now and of the 300 shopping carts that were there on Day One, 300 are still on the premises.

Not a single cart has found its way to a vacant lot down the street, or become a homeless person's recycling center, or ended up outside one of the new downtown condominiums nearby.

The reason is electronic technology similar to the invisible fences that keep dogs inside their yards.

Each shopping cart is equipped with a tiny transmitter that is connected to a central receiver. Whenever a cart crosses over a wire that is buried around the store's perimeter, the resultant signal activates a locking device on the left front wheel of the cart.

Technically, you could continue to drag the cart after that, but it will not roll.

It will only roll again on all four wheels when Brandon Pearce, the cart manager at the downtown Harmons, shows up with his remote control and deactivates the lock.

And the remote control can only unlock the wheel once it is back within the perimeter.

So if your cart guy gets any ideas about going rogue, he's foiled too.

"Pretty foolproof, huh?" says Todd Jensen, the store manager. "These carts aren't cheap, I can tell you that. But we know how many carts we have, and we know how many we're going to keep."

The people at Harmons aren't the only ones happy about the cart situation.

"I know the police were excited when we told them," Jensen says.

There will no runaway carts on the downtown streets, no cart clutter from Harmons.

As you can imagine, there has been a rather sharp learning curve associated with the new carts. Something that Brandon, the cart manager, has seen first hand.

"Opening day, carts were lined up all along the street," he says. "You should've seen the look on some of the people's faces. They couldn't figure out why their cart wouldn't move."

This, despite the fact many of them were right in front of one of the signs positioned along the store's perimeter that state:

CAUTION: Cart will STOP suddenly if taken beyond the yellow line

But slowly and surely, people are catching on. Every day, Brandon says he's rescuing fewer and fewer stalled carts.

Eventually, says store manager Jensen, the carts with the locking wheels will be found at most Harmons stores, and probably at a bunch of others as well.

The company that makes the technology, Carttronics, out of Carlsbad, Calif., boasts on its website that since it opened its doors in 1997 it has placed its "Cart Anti-Theft Protection Solution" in 2,200 retail sites in 49 states and 17 countries.

Jensen reports that business has been "as good as we hoped" at the downtown Harmons. The biggest surprise so far, he says, has been the large numbers of walk-up customers. People who either live or work downtown are dropping by in droves on foot.

Leaving that way, too.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

Email: benson@desnews.com

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