The New Yorker’s Nov. 26 edition (“The Food Issue”) is worth hunting down. It includes an article by Alexandra Schwartz on Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Co-op (“Bounty Hunters”) that will leave veterans of our Co-op nodding in recognition (if not agreement) and newbies wondering if we’re like Those People. My vote is No — mostly.
Like Weavers Way, Park Slope got its start in 1973 as a buying club. Like Park Slope, Weavers Way sometimes fixates on terminology, although not to the degree that Park Slope does. I can’t picture someone jumping on the intercom at any of our stores to correct a person who uses “customer” rather than “shopper,” though we do prefer the second term. Blame that response on New York, er, intensity.
At 17,000 members (and one 6,000 square foot store), Park Slope is the biggest food co-op run on member labor in the country. Members — all members — are required to work a two-hour, 45-minute shift every four weeks (think about that, working members). They do everything from unloading trucks to ringing up groceries to counting cash. Miss a shift, and you’ll have to compensate by working two. Fall far enough behind on your work requirement, and your shopping privileges are suspended. And they check IDs at the door.
Along with these stringent work requirements (and partly because of them), Park Slope has a reputation for low prices — 15 to 50% less than at a conventional grocery store. It would be great if Weavers Way could make that same claim, but committing to that would come with a price.
Schwartz, a member, admits that she loves Park Slope in all its crowdedness and odd organization. (Mt. Airy shoppers, nod here.) She enjoys her Sunday morning cashier shifts, where she can ask shoppers about what they’ve bought and how they prepare it.
And that’s really the nut of it — people (strangers, really) interacting over food. It’s a value we’ve lost and could use to recover, wherever we call home.
Catch you in the pages next year.