Archive for Saturday, November 5, 2011

Arrest over sandwich stirs debate about eating in stores

November 5, 2011


— It happens daily in supermarkets and convenience stores nationwide: digging into a bag of chips while waiting in line, sampling a couple of grapes in the produce section, opening a bottle of milk to appease a crying child.

The highly-publicized story of a pregnant Honolulu mom who was arrested last week with her husband after she ate a sandwich in a Safeway store and forgot to pay, leading to the couple’s 2-year-old daughter being taken away by Child Welfare Services, has sparked a national debate on the issue.

It also raised the question: Is it OK to consume food and beverages in the store before paying?

Didn’t know it was ‘taboo’

The woman in Hawaii who ate the sandwich has no problem with it.

“I didn’t know it was such a taboo thing,” said Nicole Leszczynski who was charged with fourth-degree theft, a petty misdemeanor, along with her husband, Marcin. The charges have since been dropped by Safeway. “Where I grew up in a small town it’s not seen as stealing for sure.”

Others are not so sure.

The story generated a robust debate on Facebook and Yahoo in comments following stories on the theft. Some argued that it’s wrong to eat what you haven’t paid for, and that police did the proper thing in arresting them. Others said eating while shopping has become a perfectly acceptable practice. Many denounced the arrest as a heavy-handed response.

Consumer opinion

At the Safeway where the Leszczynskis were arrested, Linda Mercado and her friend Christine Lutley didn’t get too far from the exit Wednesday before they began digging into their food purchases. Mercado polished off a package of sushi as she discussed her views on the issue.

“Pay before you eat,” the 66-year-old Mercado said. “It’s bad manners.”

However, Mercado acknowledged drinking beverages in the past while waiting in line.

“I don’t walk around the store drinking it,” she explained. “By the time I’m done shopping I’m thirsty.”

Shoppers Gerard and Ruth Viggayan said they consider eating before paying to be stealing.

“If you want to eat it, you have to purchase it,” the 34-year-old Gerard said. “It’s not like Costco where you get free samples.”

His wife was craving a bag of potato chips, but she said she would wait until they got to the car to open it. “If it looks good, we pay for it,” Ruth, 33, said, “and then eat.”

Wahiawa resident Jadene Espinueva, 34, has consumed cookies, grapes and bottled water before paying. “Just as long as you’re going to pay for it and you’ve got the money, why not?” she said. “If I’m hungry or thirsty, yeah, I’m guilty of it. I don’t see what’s the big deal.”


Eating before checking out has clearly become part of supermarket culture. From supermarkets to Costco handing out food samples in aisles, shoppers associate stores with being an acceptable place to munch, said Dana Alden, a marketing professor at the University of Hawaii’s business school and an expert in consumer psychology and branding.

Alden said it wouldn’t be prudent customer relations for stores to crack down. He likened the acceptance of eating before paying to dropping a jar of peanut butter, but still not being forced to pay for it.

Consumer behavior expert Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California, said a trip to the grocery store is a familiar routine, and can be seen as a place where it’s acceptable to eat.

“That creates a certain sense of it’s OK for me to do that because I’m hungry and I have every intention of paying for it,” she said. “From a psychology standpoint, it’s mine even though the formal transaction hasn’t transpired.”

Safeway incident

As for the 28-year-old Leszczynski, the former Air Force staff sergeant who is 30 weeks pregnant, was feeling faint and famished after a long walk to the Safeway near downtown Honolulu and decided to eat a chicken salad sandwich while shopping and saved the wrapper to have it scanned at the register. But she and her husband forgot to pay for the sandwiches as they checked out with about $50 worth of groceries.

When confronted by security, they offered to pay, but Honolulu police were called and the couple were arrested and booked. Their daughter Zofia was taken away. Leszczynski said she was embarrassed and horrified.

They posted $50 bail each and were reunited with their daughter after an 18-hour separation.

Honolulu police said it was routine procedure to call Child Welfare Services if a child is present when both parents are arrested.

Safeway called Leszczynski on Tuesday and apologized for what she went through. The company also informed police the same day that it wouldn’t press charges.

Safeway said management followed routine shoplifting procedure by contacting police, but the company regrets not foreseeing that doing so would cause a child to be separated from her parents.


number3of5 6 years, 7 months ago

Every grape you consume has to be paid for by someone. You buy them by the pound, not the grape. If you don't include it in the weight at the register, then the grocer foots the bill and eventually each and every one of us shoppers pay by higher prices. Items that can be scanned such as crackers, pop, water, or sandwiches can still be paid for, but eating something before paying is stealing. Would you fill your car because it is empty and needs fuel, then drive off and use the gas with every intention of going back to pay later?

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

I agree this woman and her husband should be prosecuted for theft, but lose their kids? When I worked in schools I saw and reported children who were living in squalor and with druggie parents. Couldn't get anyone to do anything about that.

weeslicket 6 years, 7 months ago

Is it OK to consume food and beverages in the store before paying? “Pay before you eat,” etc.

i know that's how it works in restaurants and bars and such. one never pays after eating. nope. that never happens.

Getaroom 6 years, 7 months ago

Honest mistakes are made everyday of the year, and sure there are criminals whose intentions are clear. But really, if one is honest, haven't most readers forgotten to pay for something that they fully intended to pay for in a lifetime of shopping? A bit of practical common sense was in order here. Carefully questioning before the handcuffs are slammed on was in order. ....math, stolen gasoline is no comparison to spacing out paying for an eaten sandwich and it sounds like they were even standing in line, not trying to hide anything. Besides none of us was there anyway to know the specifics. Why has no one acknowledged just how the store resolved the issue. Foaming at the mouth reactions and for what? Maybe the LJW should disable comments on articles such as this?

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