Friday, November 9, 2007

Co-op Markets

Letter to the editor to the Hyde Park Herald on November 8, about Co-op Markets:


Although it shouldn't have been a surprise, I read with dismay of the Co-op's bleak alternatives. While it's amazing when anything in this world lasts as long as 75 years, the Co-op's financial failure is distressing because it seems to have come about because of one bad decision—to expand and to lock into a long-term lease. In other words, it was utterly unnecessary. I've also been disappointed that someone would run for a board position, win it, and then figure out that they didn't have enough time for it.


I've followed the disparaging comments made by a vocal (or verbal) few in the Herald, including those written by people willing to call their neighbors "stupid" for shopping at the Co-op. Call me "stupid" all you like; I prefer the Co-op to any chain store that I have been in. If my preferences make me "stupid," so be it.


The comments and attitudes are unfortunate because the Co-op provides an alternative to the abundant chains, which not everyone loves. As an example, a friend in Ann Arbor, her daughter, and I went to Whole Foods to pick up a special order. She and her teenage daughter found the experience so miserable, and similar experiences at other chains likewise, that they agreed to find a way to do as much of their shopping at their local co-operative—a tiny store, more the size of a convenience store—so they could avoid the chain stores like Whole Foods and Kroger altogether.


Then there's my friend who lives in the south suburbs, within walking distance of Jewel and driving distance of numerous stores. He loves the Co-op and wants to stop there nearly every time he is in Hyde Park. If we're pressed for time, I have to drag him out.


Then there are the people I overheard one day, who apparently were in the area for wedding. Some were hanging around Bonjour when they were joined by a couple who told them, "There's a grocery store back there. It's really good, a little like Whole Foods but different. You should see it."


It's also disturbing how eager the university is to get rid of the Co-op and to bring in a chain. The university clearly has a poor understanding of why college towns like Ann Arbor are so charming and popular with parents and students alike—the small boutiques, the unique stores, and the standalone cafes like Cafe Verde and Sweetwater Cafe are all part of the effect. Even with its diverse student body, the university seems to want to suburbanize Hyde Park, with Borders, Starbucks, Hollywood, and other suburban comforts on every corner. Now they want a chain grocery store, because apparently a local co-operative just isn't mass market enough.


Under normal circumstances, I'm not so sure the Co-op's time would have come. There have been tremendous improvements in the past several years, and now it seems it's all for nothing for those of us who are "stupid" enough to keep up our memberships and to prefer shopping there and for the employees, too.


All good things must come to an end, but such an end affecting so many people, including the "stupid" like me—it's unfortunate and sad, moreso because it was avoidable.

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