The cringe-inducing slogan of the Co-Op—aka the Hyde Park Cooperative Society, aka the only real grocery store in Hyde Park—is “a love affair with fine foods.” Unpleasant as that sounds, it’s all the worse that living with the Co-Op is more like tolerating a loveless marriage of convenience with a clinically-depressed deadbeat.
Grouse all you want about chains and whatnot. A good co-operative can thrive in the neighborhood—the Seminary Co-Op is probably the finest academic bookstore in the country, and its sister store, 57th Street Books, is an outstanding medium-sized bookstore with a great midlist fiction collection (which is often a problem area for indie bookstores). We love them and support them. Losing the Co-Op grocery will be more like losing a hated relative.
So why is the Co-Op going under? It’s run-down, understocked, and overpriced, and until it closed two of its three stores, overstretched. (If you’ve never seen it, its nightmarish Web site will give you a hint as to how awful it is.) And there’s this:
Poueymirou said the debt had risen after the 47th Street Co-Op was built. Though that store closed in 2005, the Co-Op board still has to pay rent for the empty building because it is locked into a lease until 2023. It is difficult to break since the owner, Certified Grocers, is also its supplier, Poueymirou said.
The 47th Street Co-Op was one of three locations in the neighborhood when I arrived. The 53rd Street Co-Op closed recently (making way for the relocation of the smaller but vastly superior Hyde Park Produce store), leaving only the 55th Street Co-Op. Yes, that’s three locations, each one about eight blocks from the other. Which kept the lines short.
Aside from a bit of moral guilt about celebrating the impending death of a local, few of its customers will be sorry to see it go. One of my friends and fellow U. of C. grads posted the following on Facebook: “I know it sounds callous to celebrate the downfall of a local independent business, but come on, it’s the Co-Op. Raise your hand if you’ve ever a) purchased rotten meat or spoiled vegetables from this lovely Hyde Park institution or b) discovered that it’s cheaper to drive to the north side and shop at Whole Foods of all places.”