Mercantile (Retail) Occupancies


Whenever I go to my local Trader Joe's, I always feel like there are more people in the store than allowed. No one keeps count of the incoming or outgoing traffic, but every once in a while they tell people to wait outside. 

My question: how do retail stores make sure that the amount of customers doesn't exceed the occupant load the space is deigned for?

Nov 16, 19 4:25 pm
Non Sequitur

they don’t. 

Nov 16, 19 4:52 pm

This will be enforced by the local fire department, but only if someone reports it. And which flower-shirted manager is going to do that? It'll have to come from a Birkenstock-hoofed customer (but not 'til the hummus chips and cilantro pesto are safely in the trunk of the Volvo).


so you're telling me that each busy store most-likely exceeds its occupant load at some point, such as on the holidays, and creates a potential fire hazard??

Chad Miller

Yes and no. The stores create an exit access and egress issue, not a fire hazard. In the past what I've done (or had the fire marshal dictate) that the buildings exits be designed for the highest use (most people in the store at the holidays). The stores typically track these numbers so they are readily available. to the design team.

Edit to add:  I'm talking about bigger anchor type stores in American shopping malls.

Non Sequitur

Chad, I've done this too for larger chains. Even go as far as place all display and clothing racks to subtract non-occupied space and set exit paths. Not sure how or what size mercantile population Bulgar's local codes dictate, but where I am, max occupancy for stores is impacted more by number of available toilets than exit.

Chad Miller

I've done the same. I also agree that the toilet counts are more impacted (snicker) by the the increased occupant load (snicker) than the exits.


yup, sometimes have to get creative on renovation projects. rehab can get you out of adding bathrooms. We sometimes added doors tho. L ife safety isn't really something to mess around with


TJ's parking lots exhibit the same phenomenon.  My belief is that this is a specific if quirky corporate real estate strategy.  ("Nah, we don't want that space for the new store... it has plenty of parking.")

Nov 16, 19 5:11 pm

That's all that bothers you?  Not cars parked in fire lanes? Non-permitted cars in accessible spaces? 

Nov 18, 19 8:42 am

Pretty sure this wasn't an exhaustive list, just one thing the OP noticed. Sweet virtue signal tho!

FWIW - I've had the exact same thought at TJ's when I go there, almost every time.


It's all fun and games and frozen entrees until a fire breaks out. 

Nov 18, 19 10:03 am

Then they're just entrees?


Are you sure there are really more people in the store than allowed?  

I used to do a lot of kroger renovations, allowable occupant load was usually around 2,000!  (1 per 30 sq. ft.)

There will never be anywhere close to that many people in the store!

Nov 18, 19 10:25 am
Chad Miller

In my experience the actual occupant load will be higher than the code calculation occupant load during holidays but only by 300-500 people. This is of course for big chain retail stores in large shopping centers.


I've never seen actual numbers, seems logical tho. Costco is the only retail place that I've ever seen counting people coming in.

Chad Miller

Yeah, this would be for a major retailer type department store over say Christmas when they have those crazy short sales where you can get a TV for a dollar.


Maybe Costco isn't as popular as TJ's hahaha

Chad Miller



Costco also doesn't count people going out, so they would likely be ignorant of the current occupancy numbers at any given moment.


What you feel is irrelevant to the allowable occupant load. Why dont you measure the store and determine the occupant load and when you "feel" its busy, count the occupant ls and see if it complies? 

Nov 18, 19 11:31 am
Chad Miller

Actually most stores will have accurate occupant numbers for their various peak selling times throughout the year. See what NS and I said above.


Mercantile occupant load for sales areas is 60 sf gross (so all the space occupied by shelving and equipment and checkouts is allowed to be included in that).  The average sales area of a Trader Joe's is relatively small by grocery store standards - about 8000 to 10,000 sf.  Is your store really stuffing more than 166 people in there at once?  If so you could call the fire inspector and suggest that they arrive at some known busy time. 

I've never heard of a retail store fire or emergency in which there's been an issue with people getting out of the building.  They usually have a lot of exits, and egress routes that far exceed the minimum capacities for the occupant load.  People getting trapped or trampled in stores seems to happen mostly when people are trying to get into the store in a huge crowd, like when they've been camping out for Black Friday, or when they're all trying to grab the last Furby or Cabbage Patch Doll.  It's difficult to prevent that architecturally.

Nov 18, 19 5:25 pm

" I was at this casino minding my own business, and this guy came up to me and said, 'You're gonna have to move, you're blocking a fire exit.' As though if there was a fire, I wasn't gonna run. If you're flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit."


There are definitely more than 296 people at TJ's every day at their upper west side location...

Nov 18, 19 11:34 pm

Recently I read that the least crowded time for grocery stores is Wednesdays after 8 PM.  Try then for best chance of survival?

Nov 19, 19 12:15 am
Chad Miller

Use your cart as a battering ram, you'll be fine.

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