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September 29, 2007 / Park Slope / Perspective / PS … I Love You

Food Co-op back to future

The Brooklyn Paper

The Park Slope Food Co-op will close on Oct. 1 and reopen on Oct. 2. If that sounds like no big deal, consider this: the Co-op will travel 30 years in that single day.

Yes, debit cards are finally coming to the Park Slope Food Co-op.

Now mock if you must, but among the Co-op’s 13,000 members, this is about as big as it gets (though the decision to sell chicken was practically the equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling).

This is the Co-op, though, so the addition of the cashless option — one enjoyed every day by billions of people everywhere except, possibly, North Korea — didn’t happen overnight (or without at least several hystical meetings).

“I was at the General Meeting when the debit cards were actually approved in 2003,” said Mike Mermin, a Co-op member for four years. “There was some debate, but it went over well.

“Then, every six months or so, I’d hear, ‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’ I haven’t been in the Co-op very long, but long enough to know to just smile and say, ‘OK, I’ll be ready!’”

Full disclosure: I made my first debit card purchase at an Albertson’s supermarket in Monterey, California in 1988. It was amazing. The checkout clerk took the card without flinching, rang up the order, and then even asked me if I wanted cash back.

The Co-op’s existing system is something different, something vaguely Soviet: After collecting your groceries, you’re first rung up by a checkout worker, who then hands you the tabulation, which you take to the cashier line to pay. After paying, you take the first and second receipt to a third station, where it is stamped by a security worker.

Debit card users will be able to skip the cashier line entirely. The system will also eliminate one of the greatest causes of Co-op angst: the person who gets on the checkout line without enough money to cover his purchases. Count all the leaves on a bulb of organic fennel and you still wouldn’t get close to the number of times when I’ve been working checkout and had to start subtracting bok choy, kohlrabi, Not Dogs and Barbara’s Grain Shop cereal from a customer’s order because he suddenly realized he didn’t have enough cash.

It’s easy to blame the grocery store’s famously fractious membership for the demise of several debit card systems. But General Manager Joe Holtz said the blame should actually be laid on several computer companies. Mergers, software failures, the death of a key programmer, and, in one case, a company president whose first order of business was cancelling a contract with the “too small” Co-op all conspired to waylay the debit system.

But it’s finally coming on Oct. 2, Holtz promised, and it will be great. It has one limitation, of course: it won’t take credit cards.

“The members didn’t want to be part of anything that encourages people to ring up big debts,” Holtz said. “That would make us part of the problem in America, not that there aren’t a lot of other problems in America.”

At the Food Co-op, though, at least one has finally been solved.

Gersh Kuntzman, a Co-op member since 1993, is the editor of The Brooklyn Paper.

The Kitchen Sink

We were happy to see that the Liz Padilla Memorial Fund raised more than $30,000 at its second annual fundraising 5K run on Sept. 16 in Prospect Park. Padilla is the cyclist who was run down and killed on Fifth Avenue in 2005, and her death still inspires bike activists. The good news is that even if you didn’t run, you can still make a donation by sending checks to the Liz Padilla Memorial Fund, 123 Remsen St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 or online at www.active.com/donate/lizpadilla5k. …

Look out for Josh Henkin’s long-awaited novel, “Matrimony,” his first since he put out “Swimming Across the Hudson” in 1997 (look, he’s been busy). Not only is the new book out on Oct. 2, but Henkin will be at the Seventh Avenue Barnes & Noble on Oct. 17. “Matrimony” has been called “a devastating novel” (by Pulitzer-Prize–winner Michael Cunningham), “reminiscent of ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’” (by Kirkus) and “Wow, really good” (by our editor’s wife — though she may have been merely brown-nosing so she can dog-sit Henkin’s Golden Retriever, Dulcie. …

Speaking of books, if Henkin is too highbrow, pick up the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new tome, “Buried Treasures: Tasty Tubers of the World.” It’s the Garden’s first handbook and cookbook devoted to root vegetables and it includes Hawaiian elephant’s ear, Japanese devil’s tongue, Chinese sacred lotus and South American canna. We’re partial to turnips, so we turned down the invite to the book party. …

You gotta hand it to the guys at Red, White and Bubbly on Fifth Avenue. We went in there the other day, planning to buy a fifth of Dewar’s, but the salesman steered us towards a bottle of Duggan’s Dew, another Scotch blend that was half the price and just as delectable. …

The top of the arch in Grand Army Plaza will be open next weekend. What a view you get from up there (and it’s free, unlike the views from the top of that Richard Meier building next door). Just head to the arch between 10 am and 4 pm on Oct. 6 or Oct. 7. …

Happy 25th birthday, Amber. What, you didn’t know it was Amber’s birthday? Obviously, you didn’t read the chalk wishes that were scrawled on sidewalks all over the Slope last weekend.

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