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Co-op members shop like it’s 1993 - Brooklyn Paper

Co-op members shop like it’s 1993

A happy customer pays — finally — with a debit card at the Park Slope Food Co-op on Tuesday.
The Brooklyn Paper / Mike Fernandez

The Park Slope Food Co-op began accepting payment by debit cards on Tuesday, thereby closing the gap between its reputation for fresh produce and low regard for shopper convenience.

“The Co-op goes techno!” said Bella Zuzell, who was working her first debit card-friendly shift as a cashier.

Zuzell, a 17-year member, said the Co-op has never been known for swiftly introducing technology to the shopping experience.

“I’ve been a member long enough to remember when I was scared by [the introduction of] shopping carts,” Zuzell said.

Business was unusually busy for a weekday afternoon, following a one-day shutdown to install the new checkout system.

On its first day in service, many members of the Co-op were paying with plastic, but programming bugs kept supervisors busy.

“They all occasionally freeze and some bank ATM cards, like Washington Mutual, just aren’t being accepted,” said Ken Garson.

The debit card system — a standard feature in regular supermarkets since the Reagan Administration — will not only make it easier for the member-only store’s customers to pay for cage-free eggs and Fair Trade green tea, but also helps shoppers sidestep the labyrinthine process of leaving the store.

Previously, members waited on the checkout line to have their items totaled up. Then, customers took that receipt to a cashier, who accepted cash, check or food stamps. That cashier handed over a second receipt, which was then taken to a security desk, where bags were counted and both receipts stamped.

Now, the checkout line is equipped to issue both receipts to people paying with their ATM card.

But some members wondered why the Co-op did not go all the way in its embrace of electronic transactions.

The answer is part practical and part ideological. Credit card companies demand much higher fees from the Co-op than the 33 cents that the store will lose on every debit card sale. In addition, Co-op members were on record as saying they did not want to encourage people to accumulate credit card debt, with its double-digit interest charges.

Now that the debit hurdle has been crossed, members felt comfortable suggesting new “modern” improvements.

“I like the idea of sliced meats and cheeses [in a deli],” said Ben Grade.

Grade should not anticipate buying the makings of a hero sandwich any time soon. Implementation of the debit system took four years from the time the members approved it until this week’s installation.

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