I waited a few days for the much-heralded debut of the Park Slope Food Co-op’s debit card machines before heading over to “Zabar’s on the Neva” to check out the checkout process.
For days, I’d been reading chatter about the failures of the circa-1992 technology, but I ventured forth, picking up this and that before heading for the checkout lines. They were, oddly, long, but I waited no more than five minutes. And, yes, the debit machine looked strange and unfamiliar. Out of its usual context (at every other bank and store in the world) it looked almost scary.
Finally, I got the nerve to swipe my Citicard and type in my secret code. And lo and behold, it went through quickly. No fuss, no muss. It felt miraculous. I felt relieved. Then worried. I didn’t even have a good story.
But actually, I did. Improvements at the Co-op are a win-win for members of the most successful cooperative in the United States. Change doesn’t come easy — but while cooperative management can be slow and plodding, careful and thoughtful leadership is what makes the Co-op such an economic — and political — miracle.
But that’s not the way Peter P. Knight, a columnist for the British magazine Ethical Corporation, sees it. He thinks that the Co-op is a 1960s throwback with (cue the scary music!) Stalinist leanings:Ã¢â‚¬Ë†“Try entering Park Slope Food Co-op and you will be challenged by an Alan Ginsberg look-alike. He is the volunteer doorman whose job it is to keep non-members out.
“While the good people at Wal-Mart have ‘How can I help you?’ emblazoned on their backs, Mr. Ginsberg simply uses telepathy to convey his extreme dislike of non-members. … Mr. Ginsberg talk to Mr. Trotsky, [who] confered with Mrs. Lenin, who had to consult Mr. Guevara before I was allowed to inspect the beet roots and red chard.”
OK, so maybe some Co-op members need to re-read their Emily Post, but you do have to be a member — or the guest of a member — to get beyond the Kremlin walls. That’s the point! The Co-op owes its success to the fact that members are required to work — and you can’t buy (or cheat) your way in.
Granted, if you add up the time you spend dealing with crowded aisles waiting on lines and working your two-hour-and-45-minute monthly shift, you’ll be forced to admit that this may not be the most-efficient way to get cheap produce and great buys on organic foods. But more often than not, the Park Slope Food Co-op is a remarkable and well-oiled machine. Perfect? Far from it. But calling it a hangout for Marxist wannabees is just silly.
It is what it is: A supermarket that is trying to be an earnest and well-meaning experiment in idealistic living.
As we say in Brooklyn, You got a problem with that, Knight?
Louise Crawford, our own Smartmom, lives in Park Slope and writes “Only the blog knows Brooklyn.”
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Assemblywoman Joan Millman gets kudos for allocating $100,000 towards keeping J.J. Byrne Park and the Old Stone House in good condition.