Updated October 12, 2015: According to NJ.com, the security company that detained a Maplewood resident for mistakenly leaving cheese in her cart has been “removed and replaced.” Read more here.
On Sunday, October 4, Maplewood resident Marge Dooley was stopped as she exited the Whole Foods Millburn-Union location after purchasing about $60 (not $200 as previously reported) in food items. Turns out, Dooley had mistakenly left some cheese in her cart (under her purse) that had not been through checkout.
Store security personnel were not satisfied that the cheese was left by mistake. Dooley, age 70, was taken to the back of the store where she was questioned, had her criminal background checked (she has no record), was photographed and told that she was now banned from all Whole Foods stores in the tri-state area and would be charged with trespassing if she set foot in a Whole Foods store or parking lot in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut (Dooley received a FedEx letter memorializing the notice of exclusion and trespass on Monday, Oct. 5). As she left the store, Dooley said she asked if she could now purchase the cheese and was told she could not.
Dooley said she has been a weekly shopper at the Whole Foods Millburn-Union for years — even before it moved to its current space on Springfield Avenue.
Later, Dooley’s daughter Margaret Nolan took to social media. Her post on Facebook elicited hundreds of likes and comments — and action from Village Green and TAPintoSOMA, which both contacted Whole Foods corporate offices. Local residents also took to the Whole Foods Millburn-Union Facebook page where they said their comments were initially deleted but ultimately restored with responses from Whole Foods.
Michael Sinatra, Public Relations & Public Affairs Director for Whole Foods Market – Northeast Region, responded to Village Green with the following email message:
Loss prevention is an unfortunate necessity in retail. At Whole Foods Market, we strive to achieve the right balance between loss prevention and fostering a welcoming, friendly environment in all our stores. This is an unfortunate incident and we have reached out to the shopper directly to make things right. We are also having discussions with the loss prevention company at this store to ensure they clearly understand our expectations when it comes to our customers.
Meanwhile, Nolan posted on Facebook that Whole Foods corporate had apologized for the incident; however, she and her mother were concerned that the procedure that Dooley experienced was described as “protocol.” Nolan posted, “I’ve learned enough to know that I will never shop at Whole Foods again, and I feel good that I spread the word about what I think is a completely outrageous corporate policy.”
Village Green emailed Sinatra for a clarification of the protocols and policies for a shopper mistakenly leaving the checkout area with unpaid food and/or for suspected shoplifting. No response has been received as of publication.
Meanwhile, Dooley and Nolan reported that Whole Foods corporate has proposed discussing the matter further via email or a personal meeting. Stay tuned for more updates.
Read more coverage of this story, including an interview with Dooley, in TAPintoSOMA.