retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New Yorker has a piece about the Park Slope Food Co-op, entitled "The Grocery Store Where Produce Meets Politics," that endeavors to understand and explain what makes the co-op simultaneously attractive, maddening, and unique.

An excerpt:

"In the late eighties, the Co-op had seventeen hundred members. Today, there are more than seventeen thousand, which makes it the biggest food coöperative run on member labor in the country, and, most likely, the world. Members unload delivery trucks and stock shelves. They ring up groceries, count cash, scrub toilets, and sweep the floor. They scan other members’ I.D. cards to admit them into the building, and they look after other members’ kids in the child-care room. In the basement, members with colorful kerchiefs tied around their heads bag nuts and spices, price cuts of meat, and chisel blocks of cheese. Bent over their walnuts and dried-apple rounds, they bear an unmistakable resemblance to Russian factory workers, one point in favor of Co-op critics who like to compare the operation to a Soviet work camp."

And, a personal note from the story's author, Alexandra Schwartz:

"I joined the Co-op in 2013, and found it to be claustrophobically crowded, illogically organized, and almost absurdly inconvenient. In other words, it was love at first sight. Suddenly, on my editorial assistant’s salary, I was eating like an editor-in-chief. I loved the communal, chatty ethos. And I loved that it looked like New York, with people of all colors and kinds: vegan Rastafarians next to paleo trustafarians, budget-conscious retirees and profligate brownstone owners, queer parents and Hasids, the very young and the very old."

You can read the entire story here.
KC's View:
One of the things that cooperatives tend to understand better than many traditional retailers is the notion of community - of creating sustained connections between the store and its shoppers by quite literally make those shoppers into owners.

"My store" actually means something to co-op members, and translates into a competitive advantage. It can't be exactly replicated by traditional stores, but it ought to provide some clues about how to compete effectively.