Saturday, August 25, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

Photo taken on Friday, August 23, 2007 in a newly-opened store approximately 12 minutes north of Hyde Park by car (I can't mention the name, because the Team Members asked me very politely not to take photos after I snapped this one):

Photo (below) taken on Saturday, August 25, 2007, in the only supermarket in Hyde Park. Their slogan: "A love affair with wonderful foods." Comment: unrequited. Their previous slogan: "Dedicated to outrageous service." Wait...OK, yeah, this one is correct.


Mary Fama said...

I lived the first 25 years of my life in Hyde Park and the last 22 in Los Angeles, a fresh food paradise. I would love to move back to Hyde Park, but there is no good food there! When I visit I'm shocked at how bad the groceries are. The restaurants are in blatant violation of health regulations. None of the food businesses seem to be run by professionals. I assumed that well-known grocery chains had investigated the area and decided against it based on demographics. It is incredible to hear that locals actually try to keep those businesses out. I'm all for mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, if they do a good job, but there's a difference between quaint and ghetto. The rest of Chicago is booming, so why not bring some decent services to Hyde Park too? It would benefit everyone.

curtsy said...

A truly "ghetto" neighborhood doesn't have a Hyde Park Produce, doesn't host a farmer's market, doesn't have a local drop for a CSA like Angelic Organics. There ARE local alternatives to the Co-op. Whole Foods would not serve the needs of the lower income consumer. I guess "they" can always shop Village Foods (which seems to always be omitted in this discussion of the "monopoly" that is the Co-op.)

SR said...

Yeah, I could care less about having a Whole Foods in this neighborhood. I couldn't afford to use it as my main grocery store and I'm not even low-income, really. Hyde Park Produce does have good produce (though even less prettily displayed than at the Coop), and I'm excited about it opening in the old Mr. G's space, but that's just too small a store to have the selection most people want.

I'd be pretty happy to see something more affordable like a Jewel or a Dominic's move into the neighborhood. The irritating thing about the produce at the Coop is that it goes bad so quickly; they seem to sell really old stuff there. Village Foods is even worse though in terms of selection and pricing.

Elizabeth Fama said...

When I posted the photos, I wasn't suggesting that we specifically need a Whole Foods in Hyde Park, I was pointing out the care in that first display, and the freshness of the products. Similar displays exist at various Jewel and Dominick's stores in the Chicago area.

Curtsy's point about the true definition of ghetto (as far as groceries go) is accurate: there are neighborhoods in Chicago where, without a car or a bus ride, you can't purchase fresh produce at all. (See Chicago Pop's review ["Can We Green the Food Desert?"] of an April, 2007 Chicago Tribune article.)

Still, Curtsy, I've done shopping-list comparisons, and the prices (at least of the products I buy) at the Co-Op are higher than at Jewel or Dominick's, and the food is verging on rotten, so it's not serving the needs of lower-income consumers, either.

Mary: the Roosevelt Road shopping district now has a Jewel, Dominick's, Target, Home Depot, and Whole Foods, which I believe are all closer in terms of car-travel time from Hyde Park (roughly 12 minutes) than the equivalent stores near your home in L.A. They're just difficult to get to for students and folks without cars.

chicago pop said...

If HPP were content to compare Hyde Park to a "ghetto" neighborhood, there wouldn't be much to say, and we would sign on with the Establishment folks who think that our shabby mix of failed Utopian institutions is just fine.

That, however, is not the point here. The point is that there is potential for growth in and around Hyde Park (including "ghetto" neighborhoods)that is being stifled locally. One outcome of this is limited choice in grocery shopping. There are some people who want a Whole Foods; others a Trader Joe's; others a Jewel. The point is that none of them have the option due to limited trading area.

Hyde Park lacks a modern, economical, and efficient grocer on the order of Jewel or Dominicks. HP Produce, CSA's, Village Foods help fill in day-to-day shopping needs, but obviously do not compensate for this lack, either for lower-income households or for middle class families. Which is why an enormous amount of consumer spending from households of a wide range of incomes is taken outside HP and surrounding neighborhoods. If HP's shopping institutions were sufficient, they would be attracting all this South Side spending. There are not.

chicago pop said...

Having lived in LA for nearly a decade, I can vouch for the fact that it is a produce paradise. Chicago can't compare with year-round growing seasons and massive irrigation, and the low shipping distances which translate into low prices even in the major chains.

But even LA has its food deserts, and as Beth points out, the more sprawling geography means an even greater percentage of household income spent on transportation (rather than food!)

SR said...

I don’t think I understand how this stifling of new businesses moving into the neighborhood happens, exactly.

When the Coop moved into the space on 47th Street, there was a hew and cry among practically everyone I knew that a Jewel or a Dominick’s there would be better for the neighborhood; I never heard anybody who wasn’t connected to the Coop board defend the deal. A professor from the B-School put together a financial analysis showing that the Coop was going into too much debt to open both that store and buy Mr. G’s at the same time, and would have to retrench in just a few years (which indeed came to pass).

But I can’t remember offhand how the Coop deal came about. IIRC it was pretty much just presented as a fait accompli; by the time people knew enough to get upset about it, the ink was dry on the contracts. How exactly did the Coop manage to prevent other grocery stores from moving into that space? Was it preferential treatment by the Alderman, or did the Coop help finance the 47th St. development in the first place, or what? There’s no Jewel or Dominick’s clamoring to get into that space now, obviously. Is it that the Coop blocked them on the first round, and then “proved” that a grocery store couldn’t be run profitably in that space, or is it that the national chains were never interested in it in the first place?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Right. I've never eaten a strawberry in Chicago that tasted as good as the ones I ate nearly year-round in L.A. during the year and a half we lived there, and the farmer's market just blew me away weekly. But in exchange you must be resigned to what were, for me, unacceptable driving times for ordinary shopping and living there. I hated my car. I hated not walking anywhere, unless it was a canyon hike. I was discouraged by the lack of freedom my kids would have to take themselves places by foot or bike or public transportation, as they do here in Chicago.

chicago pop said...

SR asks "or is it that the national chains were never interested in it [the 47th St. retail location] in the first place?"

This is much more likely than any possible exercise of local clout on behalf of the Co-Op. By "stifling," I don't mean conspiracy or exercise of monopoly power; I mean an attitude that prevents the growth of a market that would attract large grocers. The NIMBY lobby, by stifling new housing development, is indirectly, though effectively, discouraging supermarkets from locating here.

If any of the big players thought they could make a profit and wanted to come down here, they would, and all the drama over the Co-Op would be history. Though I don't know the details of the deal that got the Co-Op into 47th St., I have a hard time attributing their lack of success there, or the aversion of established chains to that location, as anything other than a reflection of a market that just isn't big enough.

Famac said...

My recollection of the 47th Street mall debacle was that the mall had too small a footprint to attract a larger chain like Jewel or Dominicks.

It certainly wasn't demographic; Jewel and Domicks tailor their stores to locaton. The Jewel on Cicero has far more Mexican specialty items than the one on Rossevelt Road.

I suspect the hand of the University in many of these problems. I doubt the Co-Op could have come up with a loan for a 47th Street location and Mr. G's without someone underwriting them.

Maybe its kind of like a Pullman Town and we don't really have a clear picture on their financial status. For example, if the rent was astronomical, the U of C could bleed every profit from the place when it was actually wildly successful. That parking lot is always jammed. Its hard to imagine they could be bankrupt, without some skimming.

Elizabeth Fama said...

The development at 47th Street is run by a company called Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation (WPIC). My memory is that Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle worked hard to get the development underway, wanted a grocery store, and when no national chains were interested (after their usual demographic/income/etc. studies) she pushed for the Co-Op. (I spoke with her on the subject of neighborhood grocers after the 47th Street demise, and she still seemed to be a strong proponent of the Co-Op, saying that community members who are unhappy with it could improve it by shopping there more and by joining the Board).

And of course, the Co-Op was bullish at the time, wanting to keep their status as the largest grocer in Hyde Park, so they were a little too eager to expand.

I don't know anything about the financing. I HAVE recently learned that in order to entice Ace and Office Depot to the 55th Street mall, the U of C had to give them a big rent reduction to get them in.

If you mean the 55th Street lot is often full, I believe it's because it serves a lot of stores and it's actually relatively small for a mall of that size. The Co-Op is not a bustling place when you go in it, which grocery stores MUST be, because they have tiny margins.

Famac said...

So everyone must be in Walgreens then because Potbelly and Ace are usually pretty empty. Or maybe its Petit Faux that's dragging in all the customers.

I heard Walgreens was the #1 store in the chain, but that may have been when they had booze. But its pretty empty too.

Maybe people are using it to park for Metra. I know the Harper Court lot was always jammed until they put in meters.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Walgreens and Office Depot are pretty busy.

Mary Fama said...

I didn't mean to say Hyde Park is a ghetto, rather that its main grocery store (and some restaurants) has very low standards, similar to what you'd find here in one uniformly low-income, crime-ridden neighborhood that has had difficulty attracting good quality businesses since the massive looting that happened during L.A. riots. On the contrary, Hyde Park seems to be a big enough area, with a big enough mixture of incomes, to support at least one decent chain grocery store. I believe it is comparable to where I live in L.A., in the lowest income neighborhood on the otherwise wealthy west side. We have no "Whole Paycheck Foods," but there are four Dominick's-type grocery stores in walking distance from my house, two of which came in in the last five years. No one is driving too far for groceries in this town: there are major stores every few blocks - so many that they've got to be supported by their local populations.

It's interesting that the U. of C. is the Co-op's landlord. If the school wants to attract the best students and faculty it behooves them to help make Hyde Park an appealing place to live. I was a carless student there for 6 years - forced to shop at the Co-op - and I notice the University now provides bus service to entertainment and shopping destinations outside of Hyde Park. They should be working on improving the neighborhood too, not just transporting people elsewhere. Why couldn't they offer a very low introductory rent to a more professional grocer? It would be cheaper than having a tenant perpetually in arrears. Who is managing their commercial properties?

Obviously I'm no expert on life in Hyde Park, but isn't it a company town? Is there some way to put pressure on the University to bring in more professional tenants, if it is a major owner of Hyde Park real estate?

Peter Rossi said...

The problem, simply stated, is that the footprint of the COOP is too small (i think it is around 25-30,000 sq ft) to be operated profitably. Even a specialty market like WF requires at least 35-50,000 sq ft. A Jewel or DFF will not touch anything less than 100,000 sq ft.

BTW, the COOP is not the only culprit. University Market doesn't even stock the bare necessities (I have gone there for a lemon, a lime, and for garlic on separate occasions only to find these items stocked out). There are a lot of flies at the deli counter which always gives me pause.

We probably need a much smaller specialty market to supplement other stores outside of the neighborhood.

Elizabeth Fama said...

In defense of University Market and the Medici, I do want to point out that they routinely pass their health inspections.

But maybe what Mary was saying is that they might not pass L.A. health inspections (which are more stringent).

Mary Fama said...

Well the relatively low square footage of the Co-op explains a lot. In that case, a Trader Joe's might be a good fit for Hyde Park. They operate good stores in much smaller spaces, they are well-stocked in convenience foods for busy people, but they also have enough fresh stuff for larger families that cook. Perhaps the U. of C. could court them as a tenant?

chicago pop said...

The only supermarket that can go into the 47th St. space is one that has Certified as its supplier (the outfit that the Co-op is leased to for 25 years...), and of those the only feasible tenant, capable of operating in that footprint, is Treasure Island.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Is this Certified thing a requirement of the Co-Op, or of the developer? I had never heard this before.

chicago pop said...

"Is this Certified thing a requirement of the Co-Op, or of the developer?"

This is something I heard from someone who attended the last Co-op Board meeting a few weeks ago. It's also mentioned on the Co-Op page of the HPKCC website. Certified is a grocery wholesaler that happens to own the 47th St. space, which has been leased to the Co-op (whether Certified acted as developer of that project I don't know). Certified only lets to Certified retailers, which is part of the problem.