VAUXHALL, NJ - A recent visit to the Millburn-Union Whole Foods Market turned out to be anything but a routine grocery shopping trip for Maplewood resident Marge Dooley, age 70, who was detained by store security for stealing cheese, which now appears to have been just an innocent mistake.
A frequent shopper at the store, Dooley explained she usually shops there on Sundays, because that is the day she has her family over for dinner. On Sunday, Oct. 4, Dooley packed her own groceries, paid for them (approx. $60), and exited the store.
After leaving, Dooley said she was approached by store security, who revealed that under her purse in the front area of the grocery cart there were two blocks of cheese, which she had not paid for when purchasing her other groceries.
According to Dooley, the cheese had not been paid for when she purchased her other groceries because the items had slipped underneath her purse without her noticing.
Dooley stated that when the man first approached her outside she "didn't realize who he was, so I even thanked him for pointing this out to me so I could return and pay for the items in the store."
The man then told Dooley that he was the store detective and escorted her back into the store, first to Customer Service where the price of the cheese was determined, and then as Dooley explained to the "very back of the store into a little conference room."
Once there, Dooley said her photo was taken and a Union County Police Officer who was in the store used her license to run a background check, which showed she has no criminal record. When Dooley asked to purchase the cheese she was told she could not, and was then escorted by store officials from the store.
Dooley also was told by officials at the store that she could not shop at any New Jersey, New York or Connecticut Whole Foods in the future, and if she set foot on their property or parking lots she would be charged with trespassing. On Monday, Oct. 5, Dooley also received a letter via FedEx from the Whole Foods Loss Prevention Associate Coordinator informing her that "notices of exclusion from premises and notice of trespass for NY, NJ and CT are in effect."
Dooley's daughter, Margaret Nolan of South Orange, stated that she returned to the Millburn-Union Whole Foods Market seeking resolution to the incident and was told that as Whole Foods outsources its security to a third party, they would be unable to help. Since then, Whole Foods as followed up with Nolan, and the vice-president of the Northeast Region for Whole Foods Market has sent an email to Nolan stating that she would like to discuss the situation via email or to meet in person with either Nolan or Dooley.
When TAPinto SOMA initially reached out to Michael Sinatra, Public Relations and Public Affairs manager for Whole Foods Market, Northeast Region, the response via email was that as "this issue was turned over the the local police department, we're not able to comment at this time. Please feel free to check in with Union PD for information."
The Union Police director confirmed that this matter was not under their investigation and that "we can find no reports of this alleged incident."
Sinatra then responded with this statement:
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.
Many people in South Orange, Maplewood and surrounding towns took to social media in support of Dooley and Nolan, who originally posted a synopsis of what happened to the Facebook group "Swap SOMA Lounge." The post to the closed group received more than 200 comments, and group members went on to post in support of Dooley on Facebook and Twitter.
Comments made on the Whole Foods Millburn - Short Hills Facebook page regarding the incident were originally hidden from view, but have since been re-published with responses from Whole Foods
Members of the South Orange and Maplewood community have also reached out to Whole Foods via Twitter in support of Dooley and asking for resolution and clarification on this incident from Whole Foods.
This is not the first time something like this has happened at a Whole Foods Market. Similar stories have been reported, including in 2014 a woman in Canada who mistakenly took a case of water after paying for $180 worth of groceries, and more recently, a woman in Evanston, IL, who purchased $80 of groceries, but was arrested for failing to pay for a bottle of vitamins in August, 2015. Chicago Magazine also reported on this back in 2010, in their article The Accidental Thief: A local mom is banned from Whole Foods for life for accidentally walking out with an item she didn't buy.
As for Dooley, she is still deciding if she will get in contact with a representative from Whole Foods. Regardless of how the matter is resolved, both Dooley and her daughter say they have no plans to shop at Whole Foods in the future.