It happens every day in parking lots all over Pittsburgh, unnoticed except for those involved in the exchange. It takes place unbidden or without prompting, and it is what I like to call the Aldi Quarter Courtesy. If you don’t know what I’m talking about read on.
For anyone not familiar with the store, to use a shopping cart at Aldi a shopper must provide collateral. The carts sit chained together near the entrance of the store. You must insert a quarter into the slot in order to unlock the cart from the line of the others. After loading up the car with your groceries and relinking the cart, your quarter is returned. To be clear, Aldi doesn’t make a profit from this cart “rental”; it is merely an incentive to keep the carts from being left all over the parking lot.
Occasionally, I will see an exchange between two shoppers near the cart return. One will trade the cart they were about to put away for the quarter that the other had out, ready to use. Other times, generally around the holidays, a small act of kindness takes place during these interactions.
Many shoppers choose to “pay it forward” by telling someone to keep their quarter. Sometimes they return the cart and leave the quarter in the slot for the next shopper. Small acts of kindness such as that are often repeated over and over, benefiting tens of shoppers on any given day. I even know of one person who likes to take a few dollars in quarters and “seed” the cart slots as a gesture of kindness.
Last year a week or so before Christmas, I pulled into the Aldi parking lot, and as I got out of my car, a young man came up to his car, which was parked next to mine. After putting his groceries into his trunk, he said in accented English, “You want cart?”
“Sure,” I said, holding out my quarter.
He waved his hand. “No. No. You keep. My treat. Early Christmas!”
It warmed my heart on a cold December day, and as I was pushing the cart toward the store, I saw two others handing off quarters. After making my purchase and unloading my cart, I looked for someone on whom to bestow the favor of my quarter, but alas, there was no one around. So, I took my cart back to the rack, but I left my quarter in the slot, and I felt a bit like Santa Claus.
By Janice Lane Palko