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Coop will have to earn its business

The letter seemed innocent enough: It was short and to the point, and perfectly reasonable. It made sense to have a cooperative store in an area with so many college students.

Collectively, those students would have quite a bit of buying power, and a cooperative store would be able to get all kinds of volume discounts and stuff. The profits could be passed on down to all the members.

Look here, last year members got back almost ten percent of the money they spent!

Yeah, it sounded like a pretty good deal. So I, way out there in California, decided to plunk down my buck and become a member.

Now I come out here to Boston. And I find that, lo, things are not as they seem. The Coop is the only store in the Student Center, and in fact seems to be the only store within a half-mile radius around the Student Center. In our high school economics class, this was called a local monopoly.

What a local monopoly means is lack of competition; a lack of competition usually means higher prices. Ten percent higher? Eleven? Fifteen? Who knows? I'll tell you what I know. I know that, even with the ten percent discount, the Coop costs more. Sure, it's convenient, but I pay for that convenience: And I don't want to.

Where does that extra money go? Higher wages for Coop employees? Higher rent for its choice location? I don't know. I don't care. I'm just not going to do much shopping at the Coop. I`ll shop in Harvard Square, on Washington Street, or anywhere I can get a better deal.

I'll bet there are other people who feel the same way. I'll bet there are people, already smarting from the pound of flesh the Institute has taken, who aren't too keen on losing a few more ounces, who are probably really counting the pennies now. I wonder if they are a significant percentage of the student body. Collectively those students would have quite a bit of buying power.

They tell me The Coop is moving. I say I'm glad. Maybe after it moves it will face greater competition, or pay lower rent, or whatever, and charge less. Maybe it will buy and sell used textbooks at reasonable prices. Maybe it can expand and carry a wider variety of goods. Maybe then I'll buy stuff from The Coop. The Coop got my first buck free, but it's going to have to earn the rest.