It was suggested to me that I write an article that provides tips about finding parking around our store. I have a tendency to wax on a bit following tangents about buying locally or owning your food source, and this month’s column will be no different. I plan to suggest a few unconventional (organic?) approaches to the occasional parking challenge you may face here so let me get my assignment out of the way at the top.

When parking at the Co-op, don’t forget that surrounding streets can often provide safe haven for your car while still yielding easy access to our doors.

There, shortest column by Dan ever.

I suspect that if I were to tell you that Jenifer Street is alternate side parking all day this time of year or that Willy Street goes two lanes inbound in the mornings and outbound in the afternoons that you’d forget and either read the details on the signs or get an expensive tow. Nevertheless, Willy Street is the secret parking place in my mind. If I see a spot during the busy rush hour on Willy, especially if I’m eastbound, I take it. The best part is I don’t have to struggle to leave the lot! The same goes for Jenifer, though the trek to return my cart is a bit longer.

Trek? I bet many of our customers have a shorter walk home than the big-box shoppers have from the dairy to their car. I’m getting ahead of myself...

I should admit a bit of a, umm, bias here. I think we are lucky! We have well over forty spaces. Other neighborhood markets have far fewer and do just fine. But even if you argue that we offer a unique service that attracts many from well outside our neighborhood I’d still have my... bias isn’t the right word.

Attitude. For instance: raise your hand if you’ve lived in Chicago or any other big city. Makes complaining about Madison parking seem a bit silly, I think. I’m actually writing this in Chicago right now where we just paid half a weekly grocery bill to park for two hours. Maybe attitude is no better than bias.

Perhaps perspective is the word. I adjust my expectations when parking at the Co-op; it may take a moment of patience to get a spot if I have to shop at 6:00pm, but I’ll sure get a spot close to the door and, once inside, I won’t have to wade through tons of silly options to get to what I need. Best of all, I will not wait at the register. Overall a much shorter and more pleasant trip than a journey to the asphalt jungle.

I’m not really writing to ask you to look on the bright side, though, so let me back up a bit and get more serious.

Need some more elbow room?

Below is a chart showing the times and days when our parking lot and shopping aisles are likely to be less crowded. While you may not have the ability to start shopping between 8am and 9am on Tuesday (our slowest time), this chart may give some other options. Note: Wellness Wednesday (the first Wednesday of each month) and the first day of each month are busier than usual.

  = store somewhat busy = our busiest times

9am
10am
12pm
1pm
2pm
3pm
4pm
5pm
6pm
7pm
8pm
                     
                     
                     
                     
                     
                     
                     

The problem

Let’s face it, parking—or the lack thereof—has the potential to be the limiting factor to the accessibility of our site. As more of you want to do more of your shopping with us we find we are being challenged in meeting your needs. Not because we don’t have the room in the store or the staff to serve you (though at some point we will need to address those issues too) but because you can’t all park your cars in our lot at our busiest times. If we can’t address the parking limitation we will effectively be limiting access to the goods and services we have set out to provide.

What we’re doing about it

We cannot grow the size of our lot so we have to be creative. Solutions we use or are working on include:

  • Providing a Home Delivery Program. Did you know we already have a shopping and delivery service? Ours is admittedly a bit low tech at the moment, but if you want your groceries delivered to you we can do it. Stop by Customer Service and ask about our Home Delivery Program or shopper service. You can call us, tell us what and—to a limited degree—when you want it and we’ll bring it to you. You stay parked right where you are! We are working very hard on providing internet-based ordering for delivery or in-store pick-up. And yes, in-store pick-up of pre-shopped groceries will save parking, too. You’ll be parked for much less time. Pop in, grab your order and pick your own produce...
  • Extending our hours. We are currently examining options for either opening earlier or staying open later—or both! This should allow you to spread out your use of our store a bit and find more relaxing times to shop.
  • Looking for a second site. We have been working to find a suitable site to expand into for a long time. Decisions surrounding expansion are very big ones and must be made with care in order not to jeopardize our business.
  • Ticketing. That’s right, we do hand out hearty tickets to those who abuse our lot. We certainly don’t mind if you pop over to a neighboring business for a few minutes before or after you get your groceries, but if you park long enough for lunch, dinner or happy hour, we (and your wallet) are bound to notice. We do rent the right to use the lot at the corner of Baldwin and Willy and do not ticket it after 4:00pm—precisely so that you can use it when patronizing local restaurants and bars.
  • Educating. That would be the next section—me telling you when it is slow and suggesting ways to avoid our lot altogether.

What you can do about it

I’m going to give away all the secrets to beating the crowds right here. Using the secrets will be up to you.

  • Shop during the week. Believe it or not, Thursday is a slightly better bet, but so long as you miss Wellness Wednesday you’ll do better than on the weekend.
  • Shop before 11:00am or after 7:00pm. Make that before 10:00am if it’s a weekend. The accompanying graph supports my claim. We get a lunch rush and a coming-home-from-work rush—if you must shop during the day try hard to avoid those times.
  • Ride your bike! As I noted above, our store and staff can handle the crowds. Even during our busiest times ever we were successful in preventing register lines from forming. That’s convenience! I live about 10 blocks away, on the other side of East Wash. There have been a few times when I’ve been leaving work on my bike at the same time that my wife or a neighbor has been leaving in a car with groceries and I beat them home or came close. A trailer or a decent bag is all you need to zip right out of our lot and be halfway home before the guy in front of you at the register returns his cart, let alone pokes a hole in Willy Street traffic.
  • Walk! Just so you don’t think shopping for groceries by bike is the radical idea, I’ll toss this one in. When I lived three or four blocks from the Co-op I used it like my refrigerator. We have many customers who seem to do the same. Stop in, get the freshest produce, address the day’s whim and socialize. Or toss the kids in a wagon and shop for the week. Okay, I’ll support my claim. Nine-hundred-and-fifty-one of you shopped more than twice a week in the last year and almost 2,700 of you shopped one or more times a week! Now this doesn’t seem quite like the route to take if we’re trying to make things more efficient for you, but I suspect most of those shopping so often walked over for dinner fixins and thus made the most efficient use of our lot possible. Nice job!
  • Park on the street. For this I like Willy Street but even Jenifer is a shorter walk to and from the front door than you’ll find at the big box stores.
  • Help another shopper. If you’re going in offer to take someone else’s cart in with you (you all seem to naturally take responsibility for your own carts as it is—and this is truly a help to us) but we want to flip parking spots like a good wait person flips tables—as fast as possible without making you feel rushed.