Co-Op’s monopoly only harms Hyde Park

By Patrick Burke

The Co-Op Markets have come to represent an economic phenomenon of the worst kind. The fact that the franchise is still running in a purportedly capitalist society simply boggles my mind. Quite frankly, how can a supermarket chain that charges higher prices and offers lower quality products sustain itself? Are we now living in the People’s Republic of Hyde Park? The oppression of the Co-Op Markets must end.

Hyde Park shoppers should no longer have to face irrational pricing schemes. Realistically, the Co-Op Markets are no longer a bastion of private business in an increasingly corporate world. On the contrary, the Co-Op Markets are a failed experiment that continues to fail, day in and day out. The replacement of the Co-Op Markets with a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s wouldn’t profane the sanctity of Hyde Park private business—Co-Op has already achieved this. At this point, Hyde Park shoppers certainly would rather usher in a corporate organic grocery store than suffer under the yoke of the Co-Op’s ludicrous monopoly.

Perhaps the greatest myth keeping the Hyde Park Co-Op Markets afloat is their supposed dedication to healthy, organic foods. To uncover the nature of this glorious fallacy, one only has to look closely at the cheese aisle of the Co-Op Market on 55th Street. Herein the nutrition-conscious shopper may procure a wide variety of preservative-laden, faux-authentic ethnic cheese brands such as BelGioioso. In order to distinguish itself from those evil supermarket conglomerates, which happen to carry BelGioioso Italian cheeses as a standard, the Co-Op Markets have skillfully raised the prices of this mediocre brand name to ludicrous levels. There is nothing to soothe the soul weary for Italian asiago, romano, or mozzarella di buffala like a mass-produced, overpriced cheese from Wisconsin. The Co-Op Market–brand goods hardly redeem the overpriced, big-name goods that the Hyde Park franchise so shamelessly peddles. Whether it’s Co-Op Market grape tomatoes or Co-Op Market beef, it is invariably disproportionately expensive and on the verge of expiration. Although major supermarket chains don’t always carry “freshly produced” organic goods with mystical liberal agendas, at least one is guaranteed relative freshness at a price dictated by market demand.

After conceding to purchase marginally fresh goods at deranged prices, the Co-Op shopper is finally forced to confront the true identity of the establishment in the checkout line. Even in the “express” check-out line of the Co-Op Markets, the shopper must wait an unparalleled amount of time to purchase his goods. Although the Co-Op doesn’t accept a wide variety of globally recognized credit cards, to inform the understandably oblivious shopper prior to checkout would be preposterous. The Co-Op has determined it is much more in the interest of efficiency to proclaim the rejection of American Express and a wide variety of other major credit cards after all the shopper’s goods have been rung up. Furthermore, although the cashregisters at the store on 53rd Street seem daringly late ’70s in the level of their technology, the ones used at the 55th Street store are best categorized as Paleozoic. Long lines and a blatant disregard for sophisticated modes of exchange, combined with the cold Chicago winter, gives the American shopper a taste of what it may have been like to have lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

The tyranny of the Co-Op Markets is not complete, however. True private business in the grocery sector has managed to persist in Hyde Park. The small produce market on 53rd Street in the lesser shadow of the twin beast has miraculously continued to offer high-quality goods at prices maybe even half that of the Co-Op’s. Hopefully, the Co-Op Markets constitute some wily experiment on the part of the University of Chicago Department of Economics that will soon either exhaust all funds or complete its research.