The Bagless Lady

The Bagless Lady

I burned my purse with my bra back in the '70s, replacing it with a daypack. I also shifted from high-heeled shoes and tight dresses to jeans and hiking boots. I had two kids at the time, one on the hip and the other in hand and trying to stick diapers, face cloth, toys, bottles, change of clothes (for kids and me), money, to-do lists and a supply of crackers into a purse just didn't work. The daypack and boots made things manageable.

By the time my kids were staging their own rebellions by burning their packs and buying SUVs, the environmental movement was in. With my pack and boots, I could walk to the store, do my shopping, stuff things into my pack and walk home. I was staying healthy, contributing to clean air by not driving and shrinking the landfills by not using plastic or paper bags. I also earned the endearing title of the Bagless Lady from the cashiers at Save On Foods.


Then things started to change. Superstores were the first to make me drop my pack at the door. Then Shopper's Wholesale took up the no-pack rule, followed by Northern Hardware, Atmosphere and Taiga, sports stores that sold packs!



At first I complied but shopped mostly at places that allowed packs like Save On, London Drugs and MEC. Costco allows daypacks but reserves the right to root through packs at the exit. After speaking with the RCMP I learned that the Costco workers are in fact, asking permission to search you and you have the right to refuse. I tried this out and after a heated discussion at the door where I told the “searcher” to call the police if she thought I stole something, I handed in my card and took my money elsewhere.


Then one day back in 2007, I turned my pack over to the smiling greeter at Superstore but within minutes, I freaked. My pack had my Nikon FM-1 camera, my credit cards and money. I also remembered reading on a web site that identity theft was becoming a huge problem and all a good thief needed to access one's bank accounts was two account numbers like those found on a telephone receipt or credit card.


So, I circled back to the greeter to see if she was guarding my pack. She wasn't. She was chatting up some VIP. I stole my pack back and refused to leave it with her on my next visit. The manager confronted me, listened to my arguments but refused to compromise. I could leave my pack in the lockers they had recently provided, he said, and no, they wouldn't take any responsibility for lost items. He pointed his craggy finger at the signs.


I went through the same thing at Canadian Tire. The security guard wanted my pack but wouldn't guarantee its safety. At Blockbuster, the clerk actually told me that most of his tapes and DVD's were lost to people with packs. I informed him that he could stuff his videos. I'd buy them. But, that went against my "reduce, reuse, recycle" philosophy.



Night after night I lay awake brooding, waking my husband every time I came up with a new argument. Feeling sorry for my husband, I let him sleep and transferred my brooding to surfing the web looking for more arguments. I found Chris McGoey from the "Crime Doctor" who confirmed that the no-pack rule targeted youngsters because almost all kids carried them. A lawyer would argue that it was discriminatory on the grounds that the same stores didn't require women to check their purses.


McGoey went on to say that, while stores often post signs saying exactly the opposite, they are responsible for the pack and its contents while it is in their care. Stores have lost business due to the no-pack rule and it was just a matter of time before the practice was challenged in court.


But the Crime Doctor is American so I asked the RCMP what would happen if I told the store greeter to buzz off and proceeded to do my shopping.  They told me that since I am not breaking a law by carrying a backpack, the store employees couldn't touch me. If they did I could charge them with assault. However, since stores have the right to set policies and/or bar people, they could charge me with trespassing but only after warning me first.


It looked like I'd either have to take a store to court or make a scene and be taken to court. Although McGoey had given me hope, I didn't want to make a scene.  So, I went back to the web looking for other arguments.


I learned that 57% of all theft in grocery stores is done by employees while only 20% is done by customers. I also learned that the older a shopper is the less likely s/he is to shoplift (I’m a female, senior citizen) and males are more often found guilty of the crime than females. This told me that crime prevention using the no-pack policy was misdirected, especially since, as McGoey said, the no-pack rule cost stores business.


The rule is also misdirected in that professional thieves don't favor daypacks despite what my poor Blockbuster clerk had said. Professional thieves carry theft-aides like hooks inside baggy coats in which products can be hidden. It would be difficult to slip a pound of coffee or a DVD for that matter into a backpack, while it's on one's back, without being noticed, especially with mirrors, video cameras and security guards watching for thieves. And taking a pack off to load it is even more noticeable.


According to the Retail Council of Canada, the fastest growth in retail crime is through the returns desk. A thief not only gets the full price of an item when s/he returns it but s/he gets the taxes too. Should s/he try to fence that same item, s/he would get only a portion of the retail price and none of the taxes.  Stores that really want to stop theft have a card system and customers are encouraged to use it because it gets them huge discounts off elevated prices. The card, when scanned, identifies the customer and this information is on the receipt. This prevents thieves from obtaining receipts, stealing items listed on the receipts and returning the goods for a refund.


Superstore was the first to get rid of the no-pack rule and the lockers disappeared. They employed a friendly greeter who would make eye contact with each customer. According to crime prevention sites, this is one of the most successful methods of preventing people from committing a crime. I was so pleased with Superstore’s change in policy, not only did I increase my shopping sprees with them, I encouraged friends to do the same.


Atmosphere’s manager gave me a personal call after I had a heated discussion with one of their newer employees and after the talk, she encouraged her staff to be discretionary when insisting on taking someone’s pack. When I shop there now, I smile at the clerks, say hello and shop with no hassles.


Northern Hardware clerks first get eye contact and then personally attend to me by showing me where the products are that I wish to purchase and carrying the good to the cashier for me. I like the personal attention even if it isn’t because I am old and maybe a bit decrepit.


On the other hand, the manager at Canadian Tire couldn’t see the logic of my arguments when his clerk insisted I put my pack in her care so, I took my business to Home Depot, which has no backpack rules. The Canadian Tire incident bothers me because, not only did I fail to convince the gentleman that his practices were misdirected, but now in the Trump era of politics, I’d rather spend my money at Canadian stores rather than multi-nationals.


Over the years of frustration with the backpack rules, I pondered different ways to make the backpack rule unmanageable. I've solicited sympathetic friends (who don't include my husband) to stall check out speed at some stores by leaving their packs with their money in their vehicles. Once at the checkout, let the clerk know that you need to go to the car to get your money because you can’t bring the pack into the store. Assure her politely that you’ll be right back.