Christmas brings the Salvation Army's red kettles, February the Girl Scout cookies, and March the petitioners asking for signatures to put a measure on the ballot. The faces change, but it seems there's always someone camped outside of grocery stores in California demanding your attention.
Lately, however, this cast of characters is going away. Faced with customer complaints of harassment, big retail chains have been banning all solicitors from their doors rather than pick and choose which groups are allowed. The latest company to do so was Raley's, whose policy took effect in April.
"In general the complaints were that they felt intimidated or pressured to sign petitions or donate funds or buy products from solicitors," said Nicole Townsend, spokeswoman for West Sacramento-based Raley's. She said customers sometimes were even followed to their cars and that police had even been called when customers felt harassed.
Townsend said Raley's has received thousands of customer complaints and that a no-solicitation policy was the only fair solution. "We cannot permit some groups and prohibit others," Townsend said.
She said the store will continue to support the community through its Food for Families program and Raley's Reach, which makes grants to local schools and charities.
Target, Safeway and other large retailers have adopted similar policies in recent years. Independent grocer Taylor's Market still allows Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to sell outside its Land Park store a few times during the year.
"You get your panhandler every now and again that tries to harass customers, but for the most part we've never really had any complaints," said Taylor's manager Troy Durfe. "People will try to sit on the corner, but we don't let them on the property."
Brenton Pierce, a Safeway customer interviewed outside the chain's store at 19th and S streets Wednesday, said he has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts, but other solicitors bothered him. "A lot of these other organizations were political organizations or activist organizations and they were kind of intrusive," Pierce said.
Although the Girl Scouts are included in Raley's no- solicitation policy, the organization is talking to the grocer about a future partnership, said Linda Farley, CEO of the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California chapter. Farley said she is grateful for Raley's support over the years.
"The complaints are not about the Girl Scouts," Farley said. She said the organization will continue to sell its cookies at hundreds of other retailers.
Local troops, however, have taken a hit because of Raley's new policy. April Harris, service unit manager for Girl Scouts 127 in Natomas, said her troop may lose 75 percent of its revenue because members can no longer sell at a Raley's and two Bel Air stores in Natomas.
She said many troops rely solely on store cookie sales, discontinuing the use of order forms.
She was optimistic, however, that Girl Scouts would be selling Raley's and Bel Air stores again soon.
"I fully believe that Raley's will amend their policy to let us sell," Harris said.
The Salvation Army, whose red kettles have been seen outside Raley's and other retailers for decades, will also continue to seek donations outside other stores.
"Raley's has been a friend of the Salvation Army for many years," said Bill Dickinson, divisional commander. "We look forward to working with them in the future on other ventures."
Call The Bee's Brittany Torrez, (916) 321-1103.