A case for keeping the co-op where it is

I know controversy.

For a year, as a member of the leadership team of a local nonprofit organization, I was in the middle of one as that organization consolidated with another nonprofit organization.

And so I feel a level of sympathy for what the leadership team of the Linden Hills Co-op might currently be going through. With the decision to move less than one mile to the west, the co-op’s board has created a community controversy that it may or may not have seen coming.

I write this with the full disclosure that I am not a member of the co-op, nor have I ever been, despite my twice-weekly shopping excursions there. I forego the cash register savings simply because I didn’t want to have quite that level of relationship with my grocery store. Although I am unable to speak as a member, I do feel qualified to address the issue as a member of the broader community.  

I caught wind of the move in November when a friend asked if I had heard that the co-op was moving. Despite the dependability of this friend, I had a tough time believing that his information was correct, that the Linden Hills Co-op would be moving out of the heart of Linden Hills.

Over the next month, other neighbors brought up the topic in somewhat incredulous terms. “Can you believe the co-op is moving?” they would ask. Folks were upset about the move not because they might have to drive slightly farther for their groceries — in many cases, it was actually more convenient — but, rather, because of the hole it would leave in a healthy commercial node. The only person I have spoken with who was positive about the move was — of all people — my father.  

“It’ll be closer to me — I’ll actually shop there more often,” he said, which came as somewhat of a surprise because, quite frankly, I didn’t think he even knew where the co-op was. Shop there more often, as in once? This is the man who drives six miles to shop at Sam’s Club because the tub of ketchup he purchases for himself is, per ounce, cheaper than what he can buy at Lunds. Not exactly the co-op’s target market.

The stated reasons for the move are all rock-solid:  20 percent growth in customer base over the past five years, 36 percent growth in sales and 25 percent growth in membership numbers, all of which have led to a decision that more square footage is needed to allow for more food offerings. More offerings and a larger store space also allows for the hiring of 10–12 positions. In the current economy, that in and of itself is to be applauded.

So, with all of this good news for an institution I support and patronize, why am I feeling jilted? There is a whiff of New Coke in this endeavor. Yes, the questions have been asked — would you like more locally grown products (of course); more floor space (maybe, but part of the co-op’s charm is that it isn’t a big store); more seating options (well, alright).

What the co-op leaders might be overlooking is what marketers call sensation transference — that is, the enjoyment one gains from shopping in the co-op because it’s located in the heart of Linden Hills. A key part of its brand is its location — it is part of a larger, balanced econ-system. I shop at the co-op regularly because it is a convenient part of my trip to the library, to Dunn Bros, or to one of the nearby restaurants. Remove it from its current home and you have not just a potentially weakened co-op, but a weaker commercial node. And that is more than just a controversy. It’s a shame.

Glenn Miller is the owner of Miller & Associates, a corporate communications and video production firm (glennmillerandassociates.com). He shares this column with his wife, Jocelyn Hale.