A soaring number of supermarkets, delis, even drugstores have been overcharging for a wide range goods by using inaccurate scales, according to an investigation by the Department of Consumer Affairs [DCA]. City inspectors have issued 2,976 violations so far this year to retailers; a 58 percent increase over last year's 1,882 tickets. The culprits include basically everyone: Whole Foods, Fairway, Gristedes, Associated, D'Agostino's, Pathmark, Key Food, Food Emporium, Met Food, Stop & Shop, Waldbaum's, Foodtown, C-Town, Pioneer, and Western Beef. At the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, undercover inspectors bought eight pieces of cheesecake weighed with a scale that didn't adjust for the weight of the plastic containers, overcharging $8.58.

And it's not just supermarket scales that are out of balance: inspectors also nailed Bouley on West Broadway for illegally charging 50 cents tax on cookies and 24 cents tax on fresh orange juice. Manager Mark Stiehl paid the $600 fine, but he thinks the city is exploiting Bouley's unique situation because it operates as both a restaurant (where sales tax is required) and a retail food outlet (where food and drink is exempt from sales tax). Stiehl tells the Post, "We have 60 seats. This person came in and bought a cookie and said, 'You know, I'm not eating this here.' My cashier said, 'OK,' and we got a $600 fine. How do I know if you're going to sit here or eat it on the bus? Do I have to ask every customer?"

DCA commissioner Jonathan Mintz retorts, "I'm unsympathetic to stores that profess not to know when it's appropriate to charge sales tax." Gas stations violations also increased this fiscal year, with the DCA finding 227 gas-pump meters that didn't work correctly at stations citywide, including Shell, Amoco, Mobil, Getty, Hess, Sunoco, Citgo, BP, Gaseteria and Lukoil. Unfortunately, inspectors also fined many gas stations for operating pumps that were actually undercharging customers.