BEMIDJI -- A local grocery store now has a new, specially designed cart available to assist customers who are shopping with someone with special mobility needs.

Marketplace Foods now has a Caroline's Cart, a shopping cart designed with a contoured seat in place of the traditional basket seat. The idea behind the carts is that a caregiver could move their loved one from his or her wheelchair and place them into the seat before shopping.

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Ryan Nelson, the front-end manager for Marketplace Foods, said he has seen customers try to simultaneously push a shopping cart in front of them while also trying to pull behind them an occupied wheelchair.

"With (Caroline's Cart), you can push them and they're still facing you, so can still talk to them as you're shopping," he said.

Dawn Bly knows the difficulty that comes with trying to shop with a loved one with mobility issues. Bly is the family advocate for Arc United in the region and also has a special-needs son herself, so she has both heard about and experienced those issues.

"I'm excited, as the advocate for this area .... to put this on the Facebook page and say, yes, we do have one in our area, to tell people to keep asking your grocery stores to get one in, that it will help," she said.

Her colleague, Vicki Frisch, the housing access services coordinator for Arc United and northwest organizer for SAM (Self Advocates Minnesota), said the Caroline's Cart will be useful for those who are trying to shop with someone with special challenges. Frisch used to work in the Twin Cities area assisting people who were living on their own, one of whom had mobility issues.

"I always thought it would be nice to have something that was attached to the cart, something to transfer (someone) into it," Frisch said. "It makes so much more sense."

Instead of the front handle that usually spans the width of a shopping cart, the Caroline's Cart has two padded bar handles that can swing out of the way to provide a more convenient pathway into the cart seat.

The cart, which also has a lockable brake and a five-point harness, can secure a rider up to 250 pounds, so it is designed for adults and children alike.

Caroline's Cart was developed by Drew Ann and David Long and named for their special-needs daughter Caroline, according to literature. Drew Ann sought options after realizing Caroline would eventually outgrow a standard shopping cart.

Nelson said the corporate office for Marketplace Foods made the decision to purchase Caroline's Carts for all of its stores. In Bemidji, the Caroline's Cart can be found inside the store -- beyond the glass-enclosed entryway with lines of standard carts -- against the interior wall.

For those who may need assistance, Nelson said Marketplace staff can bring the cart out to meet a vehicle and also help customers transfer occupants into the seat, if they request it.

Bly, who serves on the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, said she appreciates the availability of the cart in Bemidji and hopes its arrival will prompt further discussion on considerations of lifestyle improvements for special-needs individuals, especially on the heels of Gov. Mark Dayton's signing of Minnesota's new "Olmstead Plan," a comprehensive strategy designed to dramatically change the way the state offers and provides services to disabled Minnesotans.

"The shopping cart is a great opportunity to bring that conversation forward in all our communities," she said.