Answer Man

Why do some businesses leave one exit door locked?

Why do businesses sometimes keep one door locked, the other unlocked?
Why do businesses sometimes keep one door locked, the other unlocked?

Q: I often find that banks and other businesses will have double-door exits, but one of those doors is invariably locked. Why don’t they keep both doors open?

Tom Westerheide, of Belleville

A: If you search the internet, your complaint seems to rank right up there with overseas service call centers and insufficiently stocked sale items on a list of consumer pet peeves.

It does seem almost ludicrously obvious. If a store has two doors, it should use them. Instead, like a “Candid Camera” stunt, we’re teased with the possibility that both might be usable only to have our hopes often dashed as we are left with strained wrists and bruised shoulders. But it’s apparently not some sadistic Allen Funt getting his chuckles. If you talk to locksmiths and others, you’ll find there are reasons for this seeming madness. Here are the most popular:

Tops on the list seems to be security. If I’m trying to pilfer something and make a hasty getaway, a locked door — especially the right one that most people leaving the store would logically try first — is going to slow my exit, so much so that a security officer might be able to apprehend me. If not, the few extra seconds might allow a security camera or clerk to have a longer look and offer a better description.

In addition, double doors often lock and unlock differently. One door may use the standard key, lock and deadbolt. But the other often has a mechanism in the door — usually at top and bottom — that needs to be engaged and disengaged. By keeping this door locked all day, store owners don’t have to wonder whether some careless closing clerk forgot to trip the mechanism on his way out, thus more peace of mind.

It also can be an issue of safety.

“Back when I worked at Dollar General, we had these types of doors, and sometimes we left one locked for various reasons,” one blogger I found wrote. “On extremely windy days, one would be locked to keep the door from randomly blowing open and smacking someone in the face. (We) started doing this after a kid got his nose broke and his mom sued. If someone dropped something that made the floor slick in that spot, we’d lock the door to keep someone from coming in on that side. We’d clean the mess, but the floor would remain slick for a while afterwards.”

Moreover, even though both doors may look inviting to customers, they may not have been installed for human traffic. Instead, the second door may have been added for special occasions such as bringing in an oversized piece of equipment or merchandise. At other times, it is intended to remain locked.

Those are the major reasons, but not the only ones informal polls by locksmiths have uncovered. Some say keeping one door locked provides better temperature control, which cuts heating and cooling bills and keeps poor checkout clerks from wearing parkas and mittens while working in winter. Some admit they often simply forget to unlock it while others say they would use it only in an emergency, although it’s a little hard to fathom why they wouldn’t have it unlocked in preparation for the emergency.

In fact, a common question is whether keeping the one door locked isn’t a violation of fire codes, but according to several investigations by newspapers around the country, stores seem to be in compliance with just the one unlocked door. However, I can just see some lawyer licking his chops if bodies pile up behind a locked door during a real disaster.

In any case, those are the leading reasons given for this often annoying speedbump in life. If you know of others, I’ll keep the door open.

Today’s trivia

What and where is the deepest salt lake in the world?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: You don’t have to travel far to see the nation’s largest federal courthouse. With nearly a million square feet of space, it’s the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse at 111 S. 10th St. in St. Louis, which was completed in 2000. According to the Department of Justice, it’s also the second tallest judicial building in the world (557 feet, 29 stories), surpassed only by the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago. Not counting the Gateway Arch, it’s the third tallest building in St. Louis and fifth tallest in Missouri.