Joining the Park Slope Co-op, worth it?
October 5, 2008 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Joining the Park Slope Co-op, worth it?

I just moved to Brooklyn and am considering joining the Park Slope Co-op. I know there are a ton of Brooklynites on MeFi, so I'd love to hear some of your experiences.

Is it really that much cheaper?

Is it difficult to switch shifts (I realize there is some online thing to do it, but I'm wondering about how easy it is to actually find someone)?

Is 2 hours and 45 minutes a month as easy as it sounds?

Is it a good way to meet people in the neighborhood?

Is it worth it for someone that doesn't cook all that much from scratch?

I should add that while I like good fresh food, I have no particular preference for organic/locally grown food and don't normally buy it unless I am at a farmer's market or something. I do however eat a lot of foreign food, specifically asian food.
posted by whoaali to Shopping (11 answers total)
If I could I would - isn't there a line?
posted by puckish at 7:03 PM on October 5, 2008

1. It is much cheaper. ~30%, if I remember right.
2. It is somewhat difficult to switch shifts, and sometimes people don't show up for yours, but I don't know how to prevent that.
3. It is not that hard to do a shift, if it is not early in the morning, or at a time when you want to die. All of the chores that I had were interesting in their own ways (mostly I did stocking and labeling).
4. It is a good way to meet people in the neighborhood, but in my experience, you work with different people a lot of the time, so it's not consistent enough for developing friendships.
5. They have tons of prepared food for hella cheap. Can't remember re: Asian foods in particular.

I was a member about a year ago. I quit because it was too far (although only about 12 blocks), and too crowded, and once I got even one shift behind it was hard to catch up.

The crowdedness was a huge factor. Coming from Texas, land of impossibly huge aisle girth, I firmly believe that people shouldn't touch you when you are shopping or standing in line.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:21 PM on October 5, 2008

I've been a member of the Park Slop Food Co-Op for about four months.

Is it really that much cheaper?

Yes. It's a non-profit, and since almost all the work is done for free by the members, there is very little overhead. The most obvious savings are on the organic produce, the artisinal cheese, and the organic dried fruit.

Is it difficult to switch shifts (I realize there is some online thing to do it, but I'm wondering about how easy it is to actually find someone)?

There is a directory with names and phone numbers of everyone on every shift.

Is 2 hours and 45 minutes a month as easy as it sounds?

It depends on what you think of the work you choose. Fortunately, there are many choices. Most people either do cashiering or shelving, but there are a bunch of other choices. Be honest with yourself and choose something that you won't hate.

Is it a good way to meet people in the neighborhood?

So far I haven't met anyone I've actually hung out with, and a lot of people who work there actually don't live in the neighborhood. That said, there is a good feeling about the place. Everyone is there for the same reason. The tension that you feel in normal grocery stores between the shoppers and the staff is considerably reduced, since it's understood that the staff is made of shoppers, and vice versa.

Is it worth it for someone that doesn't cook all that much from scratch?

There is plenty of prepared food there, and the markup is small, so probably. Still, shopping there will probably make you want to cook from scratch more.

If I could I would - isn't there a line?

Uh, no.

What I recommend is that you go for the orientation, which includes a tour, and (I think) a pass to shop there for the day. See how you like it.

It's a great place, but it does get crowded, and you have to bring your own bags, pack them yourself as you check out, and you can't pay with a credit card.

If your main goal is to get inexpensive prepared food, and you really don't care about any of the other stuff, then I predict that either a) you will come to care about the other stuff, or b) you will quickly come to feel that it's not worth it.
posted by bingo at 7:43 PM on October 5, 2008

I really enjoyed my shift (cutting up and packaging cheese -- oh the joke I could tell, over and over), and the food is great. I don't cook that much, but it was totally worth it. I met some nice people on my shift but nobody that I would hang out with outside of cheese-slicing. [Maybe we should just have a park slope mefi meetup?]

Unfortunately, the crowds and lines made shopping so unpleasant that I gave it up after a year. I'm not a morning person, but I heard that the early morning hours are less crowded.
posted by moonmilk at 8:09 PM on October 5, 2008

Yes, totally worth it! I just left because I moved out of NYC, and I miss it a lot. The lines have gotten a lot better since they implemented debit card payments, so while it can be crazy on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I usually found it okay in the evenings after work. The few times I went in the daytime it wasn't bad. You get to be able to tell how crowded it is pretty fast and assess whether or not it's worth it. There are also a couple of types of express lines, which speed things up if you're only getting a few things.

Is it really that much cheaper?
The quality and prices are unbeatable. My grocery bills have gone up a good 30-50% since I left (to a less expensive city, even) and it's really hard to find some of the things I took for granted there (fresh spices, awesome unusual cheeses, certain brands, stuff like that).

Is it difficult to switch shifts?
I never had trouble. I knew a bunch of other members, so sometimes I'd swap with a friend. I also had someone at my same time another week that I swapped with sometimes. Even just posting online always worked out. Also, some squad leaders are chill and will just let you make up one shift sometime before your next one, if you call ahead of time.

Is 2 hours and 45 minutes a month as easy as it sounds?
Yes. People who say it isn't are either insanely busy or just plain lazy. I agree that you should pick something you think you'll like though, and change it if you hate it. I found the office shift boring, but I really liked food prep, and checkout always seemed like it would be interesting--usually those folks seem to be having a decent time.

Is it a good way to meet people in the neighborhood?
I worked on food prep and I got to be pretty friendly with my shift mates, as in we knew about major stuff in eachother's lives, we'd stop and chat if we ran into each other, and I'm facebook friends with some, but we never hung out outside the coop. It can be quite a flirty scene, if you're looking in that sense!

Is it worth it for someone that doesn't cook all that much from scratch?
Yeah, prepared/frozen foods, cereal, yogurt, nuts and raisins, etc, is a lot cheaper. If you like fancy natural lotions and soaps, those are pretty cheap. You also get good prices on the organic/natural brands of stuff like cleaning supplies and paper goods and random stuff like cooking supplies, pint glasses, cloth napkins.
posted by min at 8:57 PM on October 5, 2008

From a very good friend's experience the 2:45 is easy if you don't get behind and if you don't work in the childcare department.
posted by Dreama at 10:52 PM on October 5, 2008

Go for it! I just moved from Park Slope to California, and one of the things I miss a lot it the Co-op. Seriously, the prices on bulk items, spices and cheese, in particular, can't be beat, even in hippy-dippy Santa Cruz where I am.

There's a lot of packaged goods, so even if you don't cook a lot, it's still a good value. Hummus, olives, cheese, and fruits especially can be significantly cheaper: like $9 a pound for fancy cheese instead of $18 or $20 a pound. And there's lots of good nibbly or quick-meal foods there.


price: can't be beaten, on anything. Plus they occasionally have really good discounts on beer.

sense of community: I've had some awesome conversations with cashiers, people on my shift, etc. You really realize that they're a person, doing a shift, and not some non-entity, and that's huge in my book.

quality: the quality of the produce, meat, etc. is top notch. There's LOTS of organic options, and I think nearly all of the meat is some version of humanely raised.

turnover: The co-op goes through a LOT of food fast. So its always extremely fresh and hasn't been sitting around on shelves for weeks at a time, going bad/stale/less good. I mean, we'd go through a wheel of Parmesean or a 25 lb box of walnuts in an afternoon.

interesting people: I really enjoyed my shift (Sunday afternoon food processing- slicing cheese, bagging olives, spices, nuts, dried fruit and so on.) in large part because of the people. We chatted, listened to music, and chilled for the 2 hrs 45 min. During the primary season, we had this in-depth conversation about how the electoral college works, which was really awesome.

diversity: all sorts of people shop at the co-op: foreign au pairs, yoga people, vegans, people coming from the Bronx or far-away parts of Brooklyn or Queens trying to get affordable healthy food for their kids, etc. It's also a good place to strike up conversations, if you're talkative.

convenience: I lived around the corner, so it was a lot more convenient than Natural Land, and cheaper than that and Union Market by far!

variety: their produce is seasonally influenced, so you'll see many different types of plums in the summer, lots of apples in the fall, etc. They also try and stock 'ethnic' produce, like pawpaws or lemongrass or curry leaves. All at low prices!


you do have to do a shift

you have go to an orientation before you can join

it can be VERY busy during peak evening and weekend hours. This can be mitigated or avoided entirely if you work irregular hours or freelance, or are just picking up a few things. Their membership has gone up from 10,000 to about 11,300 in just a year. So there's just a lot of people. And no, there isn't currently a waitlist.

sometimes they will be just out of something. The downside to the high turnover and lack of storage space is that there will sometimes be no more pork chops or leeks or whatever, and there's nothing to be done about that.

I never had a problem swapping shifts, as long as I remembered to do it sufficiently in advance, about a week. I also had a fairly desirable shift and shift time: food processing, on a Sunday afternoon. But the internet shift swap really does work! It's a community venture, and I've found that people are generally willing to help someone else out.

other points:

If you have a flexible schedule, and are worried about missing shifts, it may be worth it to do FTOP shifts instead. That's when you don't have an assigned shift, but do a bunch of shifts and 'bank' them, so you do them in advance instead of once every 4 weeks.

And this has become a paen to the food co-op, so I guess that's enough info. But really, it's wonderful.
posted by foodmapper at 11:24 PM on October 5, 2008

One good friend of ours tells a horror story about missing her shift and being called every day for a month about it. She did eventually catch back up, but once she wound up labeled as "needs to make up a shift" on the list, she got calls four or five times a day until she changed her phone number.

Just one data point though. I'm a big fan of co-ops, and if I lived closer to the Park Slope shop, I'd probably still join.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:28 AM on October 6, 2008

Thanks everyone for your impute.

foodmapper: the banking shifts thing sounds perfect for me as I'm unemployed right now and like the idea of being able to do my next 6 months of shifts now while I have the time.

I think I'm going to go to the orientation tonight and join.
posted by whoaali at 7:17 AM on October 6, 2008

Awesome! I hope you enjoy the co-op as much as I did.

Just remember, it's one shift every 4 weeks, not one shift every month. That trips a lot of people up.
posted by foodmapper at 8:47 AM on October 6, 2008

I used to be a member when i lived on the same block as the coop. It really is great as a lot of people mention. I actually didn't mind and kinda liked the shifts.
But once i moved 20 blocks away, it became too much of a pain, mainly due to how busy it is all the time and the lines. It just makes going to the market a huge production.
I did like it a lot though. It is really great to be part of a system where there is no man, its just us. In my opinion, it really changes the dynamics of shopping, to feel like you're not buying from "them" you're buying from yourself.
You don't mention how close you are or if you have a car, but I thought I mention my experience--largely positive, but unable to sustain once outside of easy walking distance.
posted by alkupe at 9:29 AM on October 6, 2008

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