Park Slope Food Co-Op Members Have Been Shoplifting Their Own Food

Yours, for the taking.

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.

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  1. The park slope coop is interesting, yet hypocritical, in the one hand they tend to view themselves as a socialist, liberal utopia, everyone works equally for the same product, households and roomates cannot shop with you, so one has to use video technology to ask your roomate or household what to buy since unlike the coops founding, they may not be able to police that. Of course the coop has done well and there is a sense of community a bit and prices are low. Obviously your putting your own sweat equity so you see yourself getting results.

    On the other hand people may not like the policies and maybe they need to change for the times, there isn’t anything wrong with charging folks who cannot or don’t want the work shifts. Of course if everyone does it then it may change nature of the coop. However, requiring every member of the household to work at the coop will probably not work in the long run, how would it be policed, and will the coop question if you decide to bring your grandmother or cousin to shop with you at the coop who will staying in town for the next few weeks. Will they police how much groceries you can buy, and the coop while expansive and certainly not a small tiny shop, which is commendable, dose not have a lot of essentials or items. Yes, the coop is diverse, and has various food items and the staff may have some diversity (it probably could not survive or escape criticism if it didn’t because it needs more members). However, just as it needs to succeed to carry various items (not just vegan only), it may need to buckle and accept that its current model may need adjusting, yes its been around for 40 years, but so have other companies, they are a coop not a corporation but times change. Do you think there suppliers have the same model. However, there homogeneity, but make it difficult for busy working families, returns not allowed even for certain expired items, requiring every household work but not “oh neighbor can you buy me groceries”., or if you have six kids you can buy a lot of groceries but not for your roomate” mean that it really is not committed to diversity.