UPDATE: Big Lots released a statement Monday after attempts by Denver7 to contact them went unanswered. In the statement, Big Lots said, "It recently came to our attention that we incorrectly charged a bag fee in one of our local Denver stores at 7475 East Iliff Avenue. Promptly after being notified of the error, we removed the bag fee. We will be issuing a refund of the bag fee to all shoppers who return to the store with their receipt along with a 5% coupon good on their next Big Lots purchase. We apologize for the error and any resulting inconvenience to our valued customers.”
ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Denver's bag fee has been in place for more than two weeks, and many shoppers have adjusted by bringing their own bags or paying the fee. But some shoppers outside the city are getting a surprise after some retailers appear to be confused as to where they are located.
Denver7 has discovered some retailers outside Denver are implementing the recently enacted Denver city ordinance and charging customers a bag fee, despite those locations doing business outside the city’s jurisdiction.
Vickie Nelson found an item in a Big Lots circular she wanted to buy, but it was only available at a certain location.
“I saw it on the Big Lots ad as a sale and clearance that was only in the store there,” Nelson said.
Wednesday morning, the Aurora resident went to the Big Lots store located at 7475 E. Iliff Avenue in Central Park Center, a shopping center in Arapahoe County. But when she went to checkout, she noticed the store charged her 10 cents for each bag, presumably based on the Denver ordinance.
“Which they should not do, because I don't believe that's in the city of Denver. It's in unincorporated Arapahoe County, as much as I know. And so I went back to the register and asked for my money,” Nelson said.
That shopping center is located outside Denver in unincorporated Arapahoe County. While close to the Denver line, and listed as having a Denver address, the Big Lots store and the entire shopping center on Iliff is physically located in Arapahoe County, according to Luc Hatlestad with Arapahoe County.
"That's why I took all my stuff out of the bag, put it in the car and said, 'give me my 10 cents back.' I'll bag it in my car myself with my own bags. I didn't know this was your rule, because this isn't Denver," Nelson said.
When Denver7 asked the Big Lots store why they were charging the fee, they said because of Denver's bag fee. A message to Big Lots’ corporate media line went unanswered on Friday.
Hatlestad said the Big Lots location and other retailers in the shopping center may think they are obligated to collect the bag fee because of the location's Denver mailing address. But since Central Park Center is physically located in Arapahoe County, they are not required to enforce a Denver ordinance.
Denver7 also noticed the bag fee being charged at a gas station convenience store in the same shopping center.
Hatlestad said there is not much the county can do because the decision about whether to charge bag fees is up to each business.
Since those Arapahoe County businesses do not have a Denver sales tax license, but are charging a Denver tax, it’s not clear where the money is going. In Denver, stores keep 4 cents from every 10 cents charged, while the city takes the other 6 cents under the city’s Bring Your Own Bag program. Denver businesses must pay the city its share of the bag fees that were collected the previous month on or before the 20th of the month. The first payment is due Aug. 20.
The Bring Your Own Bag program was implemented on July 1 and requires retailers within the city to charge a dime per disposable bag. The city says the program is an effort to reduce waste and encourage more sustainable practices. To avoid the mandatory fee, shoppers must bring their own bags.
Several other Colorado cities have such ordinances in place. Boulder, for example, has been charging a fee for single-use bags since 2012. However, Arapahoe County does not have a similar program on the books. But that will change for all of Colorado come 2023.
Gov. Jared Polis signed a new law last week that will impose a 10 cent bag fee in Colorado starting Jan. 1, 2023. Local governments can enact their own fees sooner than that, as Denver has done, but retailers in Arapahoe County are not required to implement any bag fees at this time. Single-use plastic bags will be banned statewide starting on Jan. 1, 2024.
For Nelson, she said 10 cents is not a lot of money, but it’s the principle that matters. And she said if she knew they were going to charge a bag fee, she would have brought her own.
“I mean, a dime is a dime, that's nothing. But it's the principle of the thing. You know, I'm so tired of paying for everybody else's needs, wants and desires. I don't think I should have to pay anything that I don't have to pay,” Nelson said.
Denver7 reached out to the City of Denver to get a response. Winna MacLaren with the city's Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency said it's up to Arapahoe County to officially notify the retailers that Denver's bag fee does not apply.