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Kevin Holten

Holten: The shopping cart before the horse

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I'm not much of a shopper. In fact, I hate shopping. Typically my "shopping trips" last about as long as it takes to screw in a light bulb, start a new lawnmower or remove a bathing suit.

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Plus, if I don't know what I want before I go in, I don't go in and that's one of the reasons I left California. People there spend entire weekends in a mall, as though it were Disneyland. It is ridiculous since California has more sunny days than North Dakota has tractors and heads of wheat combined, and yet they still spend them in a mall? That's sick.

Literally sick in fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, which says that compulsive shopping is becoming a national epidemic, with consequences that range from financial difficulties to health problems, family conflicts and poor self-esteem.

In fact, in three different studies, researchers linked compulsive shopping to depression, anxiety, stress, materialism and reduced self-esteem, propelling shopping to the rank of the new drug of choice.

Not the case for me, however, because it's tough to overspend in 5 minutes, which is about as long as I can make myself shop with my primary purchases being made at grocery stores, (horse) feed stores and gas stations.

Therefore I am not an expert. But I still have to conclude that there might be a total of only five working shopping carts in all of North America, since every time I grab one, it has a defect.

In fact, not only does it have a defect, but initially -- just to make it even more frustrating -- you've got to wrestle it away from the other carts, which it clings to like a love-locked honeymooner, boxers between punches or the welded seam in an oil tank.

Once you've found an apparently suitable model and have separated it from the crowd, you then discover that it's prior user had greasy hands or one of its wheels wobbles like a can of paint in a mixer while yet another one skids along, stuck in place -- like an old congressmen -- and it lays a patch of rubber on the gray, tiled floor at least 30 yards long, depending on your strength.

So you choose another cart, and then another, and a few more, and the next thing you know, 20 minutes have gone by and you forgot what you came to the store for in the first place.

This got me thinking about where shopping carts come from and I soon discovered that they were created by a mechanic and a grocery store owner from Oklahoma City in 1936.

That's when store owners Sylvan Goldman and Fred Youn, began thinking and tinkering and created the first shopping cart with a metal frame that held two wire baskets and folded like a folding chair. Then Goldman, who obviously had some money, formed the Folding Carrier Basket Company, which is still in business today as Unarco, and no doubt made gazillions, even though only one out of 10 carts actually works today.

It's kind of funny to note that customers originally didn't want to use them. Young men thought they would appear weak, young women felt the carts were unfashionable and older people didn't want to appear helpless.

So, Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping and that, along with an attractive store greeter who encouraged customers to use the carts, did the trick.

Now they are used all the time and are the motorhomes of choice for California's homeless population.

As a side note, recent studies have determined that cart-less retailers, like Sears and J.C. Penney Co. have suffered slow sales in recent years, while retailers like Target and Home Depot, who offer shopping carts, have had booming sales.

Which just goes to show you; in this day and age, you probably CAN put the cart before the horse.

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at kholten@thedickinsonpress.com.

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