Here’s Why We Park Cars at the Holidays

A Co-op parking lot helper-outer lifts the veil on a mysterious culture observed by many, experienced by few.

Parking attendants, like Hobbits, wear bright colors. (The sense of authority that comes with an orange traffic-control vest is astounding.) I like traffic control so much I volunteered for it, right after my boss told me I had to.

It was 16 years ago now and I had been working at the Co-op for just a few days, brand new to my job as a copywriter. The boss told me everyone chips in to do essential duties during the busy holiday season, and I could bag groceries or park cars. Fresh-faced, eager, bereft of all reason, I chose the parking lot because SUVs are less fragile than eggs.

Co-op parking folk work only the lot at the Hanover store because the layout seems to need it, and because our bosses told us we had to. (Have I mentioned that already?) We only go out there when it’s really busy, when cars are circling trying to find a spot. Using a highly sophisticated system perfected over many years, we use cryptic signals to direct our customers to an open spot: “Hey, lady! There’s one right here!” <Point vigorously.>

Most Co-op shoppers appreciate that we’re out there, and many are quick to share a compliment, a story, or a thank you. I’ve had a few folks offer to give me a tip, a few offer to bring me coffee, and a few offer to run me over. (You know who you are.)

What I notice most is the camaraderie. Something about standing in a confined space among speeding vehicles just brings out the best in people. (Or injures them. Whatever.) I once saw a customer nearly touched to tears with gratitude because a kind soul dug her car out of the snow while she shopped. She never knew it was the Co-op’s soon-to-be-retired general manager, Terry Appleby. He does that sort of thing all the time.

This level of teamwork is no surprise. Behind all the wonderful products at any food co-op, there is a member-owned, not-for-profit business run by people wearing multiple hats who just want to make a difference. That’s what makes a co-op, a co-op. Parking lot duty is just another way to serve.

To quote my friend and long-time cooperative activist David Thompson, from the introduction to his marvelous book on cooperative history, Weavers of Dreams:

Humans cannot live healthy lives without community and sharing. The principles of cooperation make more sense today than ever before.

To all our valued shoppers, we look forward to serving you again this year. Happy holidays, drive carefully, and see you in the parking lot.

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.