Thinking some background and a few facts were in order, I did a little digging and came up with the following, courtesy of Crain's Chicago Business.
According to a Crain's article of July, 2004 ("Lean times at Hyde Park Co-op," Julie Jargon, August 9, 2004), the decision to go into the 47th St. location was a preemptive move to stave off potential competition.
The non-profit Co-op gave into a decidedly monopolistic impulse, snapping up a nearby store space a few years back to block a potential competitor from entering its turf. Costs went up. And now Hyde Park's only full-service grocery store is struggling to hold onto customers and keep its shelves stocked at both locations — some say because it's competing with itself...
But was there really ever any turf to defend on 47th St. in the first place? And even if so, was it good business sense to block competition by expanding operations into an unproven market, rather than improving the core business? The article cites a former Board member on the rationale for expansion.
When a new shopping center was proposed for East 47th Street in the nearby North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood, [Lake Park Pointe Shopping Center at 47th and Lake Park] "the board and the manager thought that if another grocery store went in there, it would hurt the Co-op, so they felt they had to get a lease," Mr. Orlikoff recalls.
We know what the results were. Instead of two supermarkets in healthy competition, we have one on the verge of death.
Today , the Co-op is working to refinance its debt and lure back shoppers. Co-op staffer Ernie Griffin says that as of June, membership data showed roughly 16,000 members hadn't shopped at the Co-op in the previous six months. Mr. Cooley, the Co-op board member, confirms that customer traffic has dropped, but couldn't provide specific numbers.
That number is roughly half the membership in the Co-op -- and certainly more than the number of professors likely to be on sabbatical at any one time. While the then Board president attributed the drop in sales to competition from local convenience stores selling a few cabbages on the side, a suburban food-retail consultant puts it all in proper perspective. "Consumers are more price-sensitive now, and I wouldn't be surprised if Hyde Park residents are driving long distances to other stores with expanded variety."
When you insist on local business, you're stuck with local talent. In the case of major commercial operations run by committee, that, as we now know, can be a major problem.