A Grocery Store Practice That Confuses Me

There’s a grocery store in town that is set up in a painfully frustrating way. The entrance leads directly into a long hallway, with shelves full of merchandise on both sides. The entry door is automatic only opens in; IOW there is not getting out through the entry door.

In order to get out you have to walk all the way down the aisle to the opposite end of the store and then turn around, into the main part of the store. The exit door is on the opposite side of the cash registers.

But here’s the kicker: all of the checkout lanes that aren’t in use are blocked by a cart that is chained up. There is no way out of this store except to go out through an open check-out lane. That means that, whether you buy anything or not, you have to wait in line with the other consumers just to get out of the store.

What justification is there for this practice, from a business standpoint? Other than forcing you to walk past much of the merchandise, and forcing you to buy something (to avoid the embarassment of having to wait in line for no reason)? And from a legal standpoint, wouldn’t this violate several lines of any city’s fire code?

Has it always been this way? Sounds like an overreaction to shoplifting (or fear of). They probably do violate fire codes though. Sounds like their begging for a citation.

There is probably a rear or side fire exit door somewhere so the fire code may not be in violation but it sounds damned inconvenient. The long way around mechandise walk is standard to most grocery store layouts. As to the blocked lines I’ve seen blocked cashier aisles, but usually at least one is open other than the cashier line to allow people without purchases to exit.

If I saw a scenario like this I’d go right to the manger’s office and ask for the regional managers number. There’s no way I’d wait to exit if I had no purchases. If the grocery store is an owner operated unit you may have less luck.

Is there an ‘EXIT’ sign somewhere above the door? Then it is definately an exit door as well as an entry door. Even without an exit sign, I’m pretty sure that those entry doors have to be breakaway doors. These days, most sliding doors have to be breakaway, especially if it is the nearest exit from a great portion of the store. All you have to do is give them a fairly firm push and they will swing open. Make sure you push on the frame, not the glass. It won’t break the door. You can simply swing them back into place. Though since obviously this isn’t too well known, people tend to think you just suffered a temper tantrum (or are a thief) and broke their door. Sure all you have to do is swing it back into place, but it’s easier and less suspicious to do the following.

These doors MAY have a little inconspicuous panel with a little circle shaped hole at about knee height. Put your finger over the hole and the door will open. Or if there is no hole, get as close to the door as possible. If the door is opened by pressure on a mat, the mat might be partially inside. Step on the mat. Or if the door is opened by sensor, it might sense someone who is just inside the door as someone trying to get in and then open for you. Last resort, just wait for someone to come in. But it might be faster to find a fire exit. Though I think opening a fire exit door is illegal if it sets off the fire alarm.
Lift me a Clark Bar will ya? :smiley:

There’s a grocery store in town that is set up in a painfully frustrating way. The entrance leads directly into a long hallway, with shelves full of merchandise on both sides. The entry door is automatic only opens in; IOW there is not getting out through the entry door.

This description, interestingly enough, nearly matches the layout of Stew Leonard’s, a mainstay of western Connecticut shoppers for lo these many years.

When you enter the store, one of the first things you notice is that it’s laid out like a maze…you follow the maze like a mouse, moving from department to department. You don’t mind it much, however, as there is entertainment to be found everywhere: Animatronics, a functioning Dairy in the middle of the store (Stew’s has an entry in Ripley’s Believe it or Not for this, apparently), and occasionally live bands playing on top of the rows that line the aisles.

But – it’s not as draconian as you describe. You can take short-cuts through the aisles that are not well publicized, and you can certainly exit the store without being forced through an operating checkout line.

Still, eerie that you should describe a store so similar.

How old is the grocery store?

Piggly Wiggly, the first real grocery store, was originally set up in that fashion. A replica still stands in a musuem in Memphis, TN. There is one entrance and aisles designed for single files. There is also one exit at the end of the single continuous aisle which deposits customers at the cashier. I believe it was designed so owners and managers could prevent people from simply walking in a stealing merchandise.

Perhaps this particular was grandfathered in, or maybe your town just doesn’t have the heart to make it change.

If it’s fairly new, I’ve got no earthly idea.


I know this isn’t exactly answering your question…

I dunno about where you live, but here in the land of oz, we don’t have any problems with scooting past people in line if we have no need to be waiting for a cashier.

Why not simply excuse yourself and bypass all the people in line?


First of all, “exit only via cash register” isn’t all that big a deal, as very few people are going to be going to the grocery store just to browse. Most people go grocery shopping because they need something (or somethings) specific.

As for the long loop-around, the goal is to get you to walk past more products which you might potentially decide to impulse-buy. How well it works, I cannot say.

That sounds a lot like the design of the first Shoppers’ Food Warehouses here in the DC area.

It infuriated my roommate, as the aisle you had to walk down first was the produce aisle. It was usually full of Third-world immigrant mothers looking for bargains. They would park their carts all helter-skelter. He would storm through lifting carts out of the way.

I didn’t go shopping with him again after that. :rolleyes:

I’ve been in stores like that. I just shove the blocking cart out of the way of one of the unused lanes and go through anyway. I’ve never yet run into an employee who cared.

That’s exactly it. Grocery stores have carefully studied traffic and shopping patterns, and have determined that a lot of purchases are impulse buys. (“Oh yeah, I guess we could use some Oreos.”)
Stores are carefully laid out so that the most common purchases are furthest back in the store. Rather than just running in and grabbing milk and a loaf of bread, you must transverse the length of the store, passing all of the other goodies. Bread is on one side of the store, and milk on the other, and to reach them, you must pass through produce, past the deli, etc. Having passed all of these products, you’re likely to remember something you need, or decide to grab a snack as well, so, chances are, when you reach the check-out with your milk and bread, you’ll have other things in your arms as well.

And yes, your theory of the guilt-induced purchase is a valid one.

E-yeah. Right.

When I encounter this, I unhook the chains, move the shopping carts, and do whatever is reasonably necessary to make an exit.

I am NOT waiting in line to leave unless I am buying something.

So far, no employee has ever tried to stop me. And if one did, I would look at him and say, “How the fuck do I leave this store, then? I want to leave. Can you help me leave?”

…and see what he did.

I’m telling you. If you want to make a scene, just push open the entry door. If the grocery store is in violation of the fire code, maybe the local fire marshall needs to recieve a phone call. But make sure the store isn’t grandfathered. How old is this store anyway?

The store is an Aldi’s (non-US Dopers: an ultra-cheap, no-frills grocery store that often has substandard food) and it’s probably ten years old. There’s no moving the chains or the cart, as they are padlocked ( :eek: ), and the lanes are too narrow to walk past other customers.

The reason I go there is that my job requires me to take clients grocery shopping, and many of them like to shop at that location.

Thanks for all the replies. I’m not convinced that a call to the Fire Marshall is in order, as there is a very clearly-marked fire exit in the rear.

Aldi is actually a German company with stores in many European countries, plus USA and Australia.

I knew this was about Aldi’s as soon as I read the OP. We have a relatively new one in my town, and I had the exact same frustration when I went in it for the first and only time.

I just pushed my way through the checkout lane.

I thought that’s what that conveyor belt was for–like the moving sidewalks at the airport. I’d be up there stomping the eggs and pretzels, just surfing along with the butter and feminine hygeine products…a few reps of that, and I bet they’d open an exit aisle.

Worth a shot

What I want to know is why they have merchendise behind the check-out lines. A lot of markets I’ve been to have their magazine rack behind there, and sometimes pet food. Is it just because there’s no other place to put it?

I’ve always wondered about the proper etiquette for buying things from back there.

If you wander through the lane to grab something, you look like a thief until everyone realizes you’re coming back. If you ask the cashier to get something for you, you hold up the line, which can be bad when there are 10 people behind you at Wal-Mart, and you want two bags of ice and a $10 suitcase from the very very very top shelf.

At the old supermarket I used to work in, we also blocked unused checkout lanes with carts. The manager told me specifically that it was done to retard shoplifting, especially of cigarettes, which at that time were still out in the open, to be paid for at the register.

I never really thought of it as a fire hazard till now.