MARTIN SLOANE | Supermarket Shopper It took almost 50 years to buckle up
In a recent column I wrote about important changes that have shaped the way you and I shop for groceries. One of them was the invention of the supermarket shopping cart in 1936. However, something had to be added to make the cart complete, the child's seat belt.
Today, it seems like such a simple idea, but it took almost 50 years before the first seat belt was installed in a shopping cart. The story of how it happened begins in 1972, when a teenager named Paul Giampavolo, began working at his local ShopRite supermarket in Dumont, N.J. Giampavolo was a good employee and not easily distracted from whatever work he was doing.
But, one thing made Giampavolo abandon his work and charge down the aisle: seeing a toddler teetering on the edge of a shopping cart. "I just wanted to be sure he didn't fall," said Paul to a surprised parent.
These experiences were long forgotten when Giampavolo was watching the television evening news in 1982. A reporter in the aisle of a supermarket announced that, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 9,000 young children had been seriously injured the previous year in falls from shopping carts.
As he watched and listened to the story, Giampavolo had a flashback of heart stopping moments in the ShopRite aisles as tots teetered in the carts. "I never realized so many kids were hurt. It was shocking," recalled Giampavolo recently.
Giampavolo examined belts in high chairs and strollers. He consulted with the major manufacturers to find the durable webbing. He spoke to Dupont about the toughest plastics. ITW, the leading maker of buckles and closures, provided Giampavolo with advice. Finally, in 1982, Giampavolo's sister, Susan, sat down at a sewing machine and made the first shopping-cart seat belt. It had a heavy-duty, three-prong plastic closure, and Giampavolo had designed a no loose-end adjustment. Giampavolo went back to his ShopRite and attached the first belt to a cart in the parking lot. With the help of a neighbor's child, he took photographs.
Giampavolo left his job and started the Safe-Strap Co. early in 1983. He set up a sewing machine in his garage and made sample seat belts. He sent out sales letters to hundreds of supermarket executives. One of the first to respond was Norm Rich, director of operations for Weiss Markets in Sunbury, Pa., a leading chain in the region.
Weiss Markets gave the new Safe-Strap Co. an order for 20,000 child seat belts. The chain ran full-page newspaper advertisements to let supermarket shoppers know that Weiss Markets cared about their kids and would be installing seat belts in every shopping cart.
Giampavolo traveled the country visiting countless chains, showing his seat belts and telling about their success with parents at Weiss Markets. He sent out press releases, and his story about the need for cart seat belts began to appear around the country. Giampavolo appeared on radio and television shows, and his commitment to saving children from serious injuries struck a chord with parents. It took three long and exhaustive years before orders for seat belts began coming in from supermarkets on a regular basis.
By the late 1980s, there were more stores, more shopping carts and more kids were getting hurt falling out of them. The Consumer Products Safety Commission reported that serious injuries to young children were exceeding 20,000 each year. In 1990, the commission sent an advisory to retailers encouraging the installation of seat belts. Then the big breakthrough came in 1991 when the attorney generals of Texas and New York reached a settlement with major cart makers requiring them to install seat belts on all new shopping carts used in their states.
The handwriting was on the wall, and supermarkets everywhere took notice that failing to offer their customers carts with seat belts could result in serious consequences. By the mid-1990s, Giampavolo's dream of belts on every shopping cart had become a reality.
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United Feature Syndicate