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Grocers with scanners shouldn’t need a price sticker on every item

Next time you wander the aisles of your local supermarket, take notice of the price stickers on every can of soup, box of cereal and bag of rice. Although prices are displayed on the shelves, itemized pricing on most items is required by an outdated city law. This redundant tagging is a colossal waste of time for workers, and grocers incur thousands of dollars in penalties because, inevitably, some items are missed or mislabeled.

The city's Department of Consumer Affairs makes routine inspections of small grocers and fines them up to $18 per improperly tagged item. The agency has issued more than 12,000 such violations in the past three years.

The law dates back to the 1990s, when there was concern that consumers wouldn't know an item's price until they reached the register. Advancements in price scanning and inventory-management systems now ensure that customers can feel confident that the item's price aligns with the shelf tag, which they typically can double-check with a scanner. The law has been rendered nothing but a burden on small businesses and their workers.

Small grocers in the city face a grim future with rising rents, over-regulation and competition from corporate chains and online retailers. Their regulation by the state Agriculture and Health departments and the city Health, Consumer Affairs, Environmental Protection and Sanitation departments leads to an enormous number of fines in an industry that operates on paper-thin margins.

The City Council must update its laws to reflect the new technology and provide much-needed relief to local grocery-store owners. Intro. 1145, sponsored by Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr., is a start. The bill would exempt grocers that have an electronic scanner available for customer use from the itemized pricing rule. Many stores already have scanners. By removing a burdensome and costly regulation, the bill would allow store employees to be more efficient in their daily routine and would spur more small grocers to add scanners, improving the customer experience.

To lessen the burden on businesses that have been cornerstones of their communities for decades, the City Council should tag the price-sticker law obsolete.