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Battle of the Bulgur

Work-weary Park Slopers flee hippie-era food co-op for parking spots, diet coke at Fairway.

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The scruffy, Michael Pollan–reading culture of Park Slope is probably best embodied by the Food Co-op, the 13,000-member DIY grocery store founded in 1973. To save 20 to 40 percent on groceries, members have to log two-hour-and-45-minute work shifts every four weeks and put up with Co-op veterans who enforce the 36-page rule book with Stalinesque zealotry. But the opening of the Fairway in Red Hook—big selection, low prices, Twinkies, no history of ideological battles over whether to sell meat—has many Brooklynites defecting, albeit guiltily. “I worked my husband’s Co-op shift too, and it was too much,” says Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden, 39, a student and mother of two. “I like the Co-op’s philosophy, but I didn’t like the long lines or the way, if you bought meat, some checkout people refused to touch it.”

Self-identified “old lefty” Roy Nathanson ended his year-and-a-half long Co-op stint before he even stepped foot in the Red Hook megamart (though he found Fairway’s produce inferior). “I do have a certain ambivalence about leaving the Co-op,” says the 55-year-old jazz saxophonist, teacher, and grad student from Ditmas Park. “I like the idea that it gives food to soup kitchens and has good politics. But I did not physically have the time. Plus it’s impossible to park in the Slope.” (Fairway has 300 spots.)

Fairway stocks the sort of organic and specialty products—like Jerusalem artichokes and Garden of Eatin’ blue chips—that used to be the sole province of the Co-op, and with a Whole Foods opening on Third Avenue early next year, still more competition is on the way.

The Co-op’s managers say they’re not worried—yet. According to general coordinator Linda Wheeler, between May 14 (three days before Fairway opened) and July 2, the Co-op dropped nearly 700 members. (The store always loses members in summertime, but last year it lost half as many.) New recruits were down by nearly 40 percent. Is some perestroika in store at the Co-op, which doesn’t sell junk food or accept credit cards? “Are we concerned about our members’ happiness?” says Wheeler. “Yes. Do we think Fairway is going to mean the end of the Co-op? No.”

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