Update: Longs Drugs ultimately reimbursed us for the towing fees. My wife kept climbing the management ladder at Longs until she talked to the director of Longs for California (or something like that) who said that it really wasn't Longs' policy to tow customers' cars who wandered off the premises for a few minutes and had the towing company refund the charges. Cool!
Drug around the parking lot and then stomped on is more accurate.
My wife and a friend (in the friend's car) with children drove to Long's Drugs, parked, went inside, shopped, bought some stuff, put the stuff in the car, went across the street to another shop, bought some more stuff, came back, and ...
... the car was gone.
The Long's employee who watches the parking lot came over and said, "I saw you put your stuff in the car and leave. You're only allowed to park here while shopping at Longs so I had you towed." My wife was informed by the store manager that it was indeed their policy to have customers' cars towed if the customers left the premises, it had been their policy for twenty years (amazing, since this particular store had been open less than ten years), and that they could do anything they damn well pleased with our car since it was parked on their private property.
The manager pointed out that there are signs posted warning us we would be towed if we left the premises. Indeed there are: little tiny signs with little tiny print that are nowhere near where my wife happened to park. So we did technically violate the warning on the sign.
Four hours and $300 later, my wife and her friend retrieved the car from Western Towing.
I'm left wondering a number of things:
1. Why the parking lot guy couldn't have told my wife and her friend that he would tow their car if they left the premises? He admitted that he saw them leave and called the towing company the second they left. It wouldn't have been any trouble at all for him to have let them know his intentions. Wouldn't you think that actual customers would deserve at least that much?
2. How it makes economic sense for Longs Drugs to tow customers' cars from a mostly empty lot? I know that my wife, her friend, my two traumatized children, and I intend to never shop at Longs again. Since we've previously spent hundreds of dollars a year there, to make economic sense either: (a) the five of us are the only (ex)-customers who would be put off by having their car towed after buying something; or (b) the parking spot (in a mostly empty lot) was extraordinarily valuable for reasons I can't fathom.
3. I wonder why the towing company "only" charged us $300 for a 5 mile tow? I've had cars towed before because they broke down, and it didn't cost nearly $300. Wouldn't they better optimize their revenue if they charged the value of the car minus a little bit? For example, they could charge $50,000 for towing a nice BMW. After all, I think in these circumstances both Longs and Western Towing have lost a (potential) customer. Why not max it out?
Anyway, be careful if you park at Longs Drugs.