Supermarket Slimeballs?

Are The Supposedly Friendly Folks At Smith's Really Just A Gang Of Greedy Deadbeats? Ask Rich Hanson.

By Tim Vanderpool

THE WRETCHED GROAN of metal crunching metal last January was Rich Hanson's first clue that something was terribly wrong.

As it turned out, a fire hydrant inconveniently placed some seven feet into the Smith's Food and Drug parking lot on Ina Road had gouged an ugly crease in his conversion van, taking nearly half of the running board with it.

Being a loyal shopper, Hanson figured Smith's--with their deep commitment to Fresh Values--would honor the value of his rig by coughing up a little bread for repairs. Instead, he just got the rotten old run-around.

Currents "These people are immoral," Hanson now says of the grocery titan. "Obviously, they could care less about public safety. Their only concern is protecting themselves."

Small claims court agreed; on October 1, Hanson was awarded $1,700 and some change. Now his latest obstacle is getting the deadbeat company to pay up.

But first, back to the fire plug. It was admittedly in a lousy spot, and ripe for a run-in. Of which there'd apparently been plenty; Hanson says it was already scarred from countless collisions before his own.

At the time, he says he was already frustrated by the tight, under-sized, over-stuffed parking lot. "Finally, when I started to pull out of the parking aisle, my front wheel went up over the curb. That's when I heard the hydrant hitting the van. It gouged the crap out of the side."

He quickly called Smith's to complain, and proceeded to get "the royal run-around," bounced from office to office like an unwanted stepchild. Finally, he was directed to Pinnacle Risk Management, a Scottsdale company handling Smith's insurance claims.

A snotty Pinnacle staffer told him Smith's wasn't going to pay, and if he had the gumption to sue, then to go right ahead.

"So that's what I did," Hanson says. "And I won hands down."

But not before he undertook a little sleuthing, eventually uncovering a pack of lies from Smith's. First, the company denied owning the offending hydrant or the property it was on. A trip to the County Assessor's Office proved otherwise. Then the chain said the hydrant--and its placement--was actually the responsibility of the Rural Metro Fire District. Wrong, said the district.

Next, the company claimed the hydrant was the burden of Metro Water.

Wrong again: Metro Water, like Rural Metro, said above-ground hydrants were considered akin to appliances, and purely the responsibility of the proprietor.

Remarkably, behind this pageant of prevarication lurked another big porker: Gosh darnnit, the company told Hanson, they didn't even know their offending hydrant was a problem.


During his gumshoeing, Hanson turned up another guy who'd rammed the stubborn plug way back in 1991--and told Smith's management all about it.

Hanson's investigation also turned up another odd little dilemma. He says original county zoning called for 25-feet turning lanes in the lot. "Instead, the turning lane around the hydrant was only 17-feet, 4-inches," Hanson says. Smith's also apparently shrank the parking spots from the originally approved width, he says, so they could squeeze in more shoppers, resulting in what he calls "the most dangerous parking lot in town."

Michael Jenkins, director of the Smith's store on Ina Road, didn't return a phone call seeking comment. And after following Hanson's lead and getting bounced from one corporate talking-head to another, the Tucson Weekly finally reached spokeswoman Marsha Gilford in Salt Lake City. "Without specific information on this case," Gilford says, "all I can say is that Smith's always honors court orders."

Meanwhile, Rich Hanson is still waiting for the rest of his grub, to the tune of $38, plus interest. "I had the distinct pleasure of calling the gal at Pinnacle Risk--the one who dared me to sue--and ask her where the rest of my money was," he says. "She said there was nothing from the court saying I get interest. I told her it was right there in the middle of the page.

"She said she'd look into it, and call me back. I still haven't heard from her." If Smith's doesn't come clean this week, Hanson says he'll file a debtor's petition forcing the grocery goldbrickers to ante up.

Either way, Hanson says he won't spend another penny with a company more interested in passing the buck than the gravy. "Let's put it like this," he says. "The chances are nil that Rich Hanson will ever again put anything in his mouth that was purchased at Smith's." TW

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