Police arrested two Park Slope Food Coop members late last year after store management says they shoplifted an estimated $18,000 worth of groceries over the course of 2016.
Coop general coordinator Joe Holtz said that eagle-eyed fellow cooperators reported the two accused shoplifters separately on suspicion of stealing, but let them leave so that the main office could investigate further. When they came back, one on November 30th and another on December 6th, the coop alerted police, and officers apparently caught them bread-handed. In both cases, Holtz said, the suspects tried to mosey out the door having paid for only a fraction of the food in their carts—$2 out of $87 worth in one case. In the other, Holtz said the member paid for more, but tried to make off with $135 worth of goods.
The NYPD confirmed the arrests, saying that the two people, a 79-year-old man from Park Slope and a 42-year-old man from Sunset Park, were charged with petit larceny, and in the case of the December arrestee, from Sunset Park, possession of stolen property. The two could not be reached for comment.
Coop staff—there are about 80 paid workers who bottom-line the coop's functions while its 16,000 members provide much of the raw labor in 2-hour-45-minute shifts once a month—arrived at the $18,000 figure by reviewing records showing when the two checked into the coop to shop in 2016, then watching tapes of them plying the aisles.
Some shoplifting the coop deals with internally, by banning the member doing it, but "if we catch them that day, they’ll get arrested," Holtz said, adding that the store policy is to not confront a member until "really certain" he or she is stealing.
Holtz said he hopes word of the arrests, first publicized in the pages of the coop's biweekly newspaper, the Linewaiters Gazette, serves as a deterrent, and that they are necessary "even though I don’t agree with all aspects of the criminal justice system." He explained:
Three more years at $18,000 a year, that’s how I look at it. These two people stole $18,000 approximately in 2016. I’m much more worried about 2017, '18, '19—that over the next 10 years they were going to steal $180,000. For a corporation owned by its members equally in a cooperative fashion, where people participate and hopefully learn to love the coop and we try to keep the prices so low, the coop is so vulnerable to having to raise the markup to make up for the stealing, which makes the coop weaker.
The cramped store does a booming business, reporting $54 million in sales revenue this past year. Holtz estimated that the coop has a shrink rate, the retail industry term for the amount of lost merchandise, be it damaged, lost, or stolen, of 1.5-2 percent, of which he guesses about half is from shoplifting. Grocery stores on average have a shrink rate of 3.2 percent, according to the 2015 National Retail Security Survey, conducted by the National Retail Federation and the University of Florida.
Holtz, who was there at the founding of the coop in 1973, said he still does not understand why people would steal from a store that they technically co-own, especially when its prices are dramatically lower than the competition.
"Does it surprise me to this day even though I’ve been here so long personally? Yeah," he said. "Does it surprise me to the level of being shocked? No, because I’m used to it."