Several members wondered why it had taken this long for a Co-Op Board to outline the gravity of the situation in plain terms, suggesting that previous Boards had been less than forthcoming. A few of them even chided the Board for not publicly putting all options -- including bankruptcy -- on the table. Some of their current accounting practices strike us here at HPP as "aggressive," as we'll explain below -- meaning that they put the best legally possible face on what seems to be a very tenuous financial situation.
Optimists will argue that the 55th Street store just needs to be made to sing, and then the Co-Op will pay down its obligations. Take one look at the magnitude of the abyss that has opened up on 55th Street, however, and you may change your mind:
This is the amount the Co-Op is in the hole. Between interest payments and rent expense, the Co-Op is in an extremely precarious situation. If vendors or big landlords demand payment, the Co-Op could hit a liquidity crisis. In other words, they wouldn't be able to pay their bills. Unless someone fronts them money, the only alternative at that point would be bankruptcy.
$18,000,000 [estimated] future obligation on 47th Street rent to 2025 that does not show up on the Co-Op balance sheet
As with a lot of information pertaining to the financial health of the Co-Op, this number is nowhere plainly indicated. We've had to get at it from nuggets buried in different issues of the Evergreen -- another reason why some shareholders are upset with what they feel is a lack of forthrightness and transparency.
This number represents our estimate of the 25-year lease (there are 3 different sources suggesting the lease ends in 2023, 2025, and 2029), assuming a start-date of 2000 for the 47th Street store, and that the Co-Op owes Certified Grocers a rent of $1,000,000/year.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles do not require that this not-so-hidden liability show up on the balance sheet. As it is, the Co-Op only shows one year of rent as its liability at 47th Street, each year. If the Co-Op is serious about transparency, the total amount of this liability ought to be clearly visible in its financial statements.
How long are members willing to wait while management tries to lease out the 47th Street location? They've been trying for 2 years now. Membership is starting to get a clue, and is rushing to cash out shares. The Co-Op currently owes more to members withdrawing shares than it is taking in from new shareholders. From September, 2006 through to June, 2007, Co-Op members withdrew $39,710.41 worth of shares. For that same time period, net membership transactions -- new shares bought versus old shares cashed out -- ran to -$30,286.27.
This is a rush on the bank. A new tenant for 47th Street is nowhere in sight. Operations at the 55th Street store are a black hole. The Co-Op is a store that can no longer, despite the belief of some of its remaining members, function as a true cooperative buying in bulk and selling at a discount. The organization owes it to Hyde Parkers to make all the numbers public and put all the options on the table.