Over the long weekend, we all hopefully took a break from work and got in a lot of eating and family time, but also, the New York Times reported on an important development from the Park Slope Food Co-Op, which is apparently experiencing a sharp increase in theft by its own members. Estimates of daily losses have jumped from around $700 to $1,200, which rounds out to around $438,000 per year worth of stolen goods, the Times reports.
From a business standpoint, it doesn’t make a ton of sense, and longtime manager Joe Holtz explains, “A member and an owner are interchangeable. If a member is stealing from the cooperative, they are actually stealing from themselves.” Which is exactly the core concept of a co-op, other than access to quality, low-priced foods. For a member to steal anything from a co-op creates a rapidly self-reinforcing problem and drives up prices.
But then, it wouldn’t be especially fair to rag on Park Slope’s members for the rise in theft. This type of problem is pretty rampant at co-ops and similar organizations, and the Food Co-Op’s rate of lost merchandise (or “shrink”) is still significantly below the norm—independent stores can typically expect to lose about 1.62 percent of the gross margin, and the co-op is currently losing around 1.2 percent, a recent spike from around 0.75 percent. One could argue that in spite of a rise in bad behavior (Holtz recently had to call the cops on a 40-year-old woman stealing scotch tape, a rolling pin, and cookie cutters), Park Slope Food Co-Op members are still comparatively well-behaved.
Which is why the proposed solution—”heightened vigilance” by all members to potential in-store theft rather than the addition of a security guard—makes perfect sense. If members are willing to start stealing, it’s also fair to assume they’ll start snitching.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.