The funny thing about living a split existence between two places is how you end up paying attention to local issues, but they don't really affect you fully because, well, you are not there half the time.
I wonder if that is why I am not so sad about the imminent demise of the Hyde Park Co-op, a neighborhood institution that both inspired and infuriated me over the more than ten years I lived in Hyde Park. The consequences of its closing–well, let's just say it. . . of its FAILURE–won't really be borne by me in any immediate way. But I don't think that is why I am not sad. Even if I still depended on the Co-op as my local grocer, I would be in the same emotional state because, basically, I was sad for probably a good five years already. For the last couple of years I've been totally numb to the incredible series of missteps on the part of the board and management. After a while even the unbelievably lousy service, which was sometimes downright rude, rolled right off of me. I think probably quite a few formerly loyal Co-op members had this experience of desensitization. But really, the Co-op's death warrant was signed long ago, at least as early as its ill-conceived expansion plan, and only the willfully blind could not see it. So, by the time the Co-op finally shuts down later this month, many of us, including we who believe in co-ops and democratic business models, will have already gone through the stages of grief and accepted the death of this once-amazing institution.
But I am feeling some anxiety about Madison's Willy Street Co-op. It, too, is expanding. It makes me wonder, has any food co-op successfully grown to more than one store? The Berkeley Co-op died a pretty ugly and sad death from all that I've read. Outpost in Milwaukee seems to be managing growth well, but that is only my totally superficial impression. And any number of food co-ops have died as small storefront operations. Is every case different, or are there patterns that can guide young and future co-ops (like the Dill Pickle Food Co-op), to perhaps travel that middle ground between cultivating a big enough market for economic viability, but staying small enough to maintain a functioning democratic structure? Thoughts, anyone?