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If I Find money in a Store, Do I Have to Return it to the Storeowner?

Rav Baruch Fried

Question: I was in a supermarket and found $10 in front of the customer service counter. I picked it up, saw that there was no siman, and was about to take it for myself. The storeowner saw me pick it up and said that it belongs to him since it was found on his property. Do I have to give it to him?

Answer: If the money was behind the counter – in the place where customers do not normally go – it would belong to the storeowner because his chatzer would acquire it for him.

However, if the money was found in front of the counter – in a place where there are customers – the Mishnah says that the finder can keep it if it can be assumed that the owner was meya’esh before he picked it up. The Rishonim explain that the store’s chatzer is not koneh because it is not protected, and only a protected property is koneh items without the owner’s knowledge. Other Rishonim explain that the chatzer is not koneh because the owner was not yet meya’esh when the item first fell there, as he obviously wasn’t yet aware that he dropped it. By the time the finder picked it up, however, the owner was already meya’esh, so he is allowed to keep it.  

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