Friday, November 23, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Add Co-Op to List of Abandoned Buildings

posted by Peter Rossi

Hyde Parkers moved closer to adding the Co-Op store on 55th to the long list of shuttered and abandoned buildings in Hyde Park. Ignoring recommendations that the Co-Op accept a generous bail-out proposal in exchange for a replacement with an actual grocery store, Co-Op members shouted "Save the Co-Op" at a meeting last Sunday.

Boldly defying market forces and dry balance sheet statistics, many attending held out the panacea of bankruptcy as a way to save one of the oldest neighborhood Establishment institutions. These members were exhorted by two maverick Board members who were seen to be holding well-thumbed copies of The Rochdale Principles.

"Bankruptcy is a way to turn the rules of the Capitalists against them," commented member Ned I.M. B. Young, 99. "If the Co-Op files for bankruptcy, they can simply walk away from the 47 Street store lease." A Herald reporter reminded Mr. Young that Certified Grocers is both the Co-Op's landlord on 47th street and supplier for 55th. "Details, details, the people have spoken -- these suppliers will just have to give us free groceries until we get back on our feet."

Others at the meeting excoriated the Co-Op's landlord, the University of Chicago. "As rich as these people are, they can certainly afford to extend us another few millions to let the Co-Op continue to provide us with poor service, high prices and low quality produce," said local writer Curtis B. Misguided. "You need to suffer in order to be truly creative. The long Chicago winters, coupled with the Co-Op, have helped many of us do our best work."

Still others emphasized the preservation motive in taking the bankruptcy route. Freeze! Illinois chair, Daniel Buttress, explained that "we want to preserve buildings in the amber of the Hyde Park backwater. We have been very encouraged that Alderman Hairston has turned down proposals to replace Doctor's Hospital with a hotel. We have St. Stephen's, Doctor's Hospital, and the crumbling Point revetment on our list of historically significant, abandoned structures. If the Co-Op takes the bankruptcy route, it will be shuttered within a few months and we can add it to our list."

When asked why the Co-Op structure deserves the attention of preservationists, Mr. Buttress replied, "well, it is true that Co-Op was very badly rehabbed in 1999. But if we don't abandon poor architecture today, we will have nothing to preserve tomorrow!"

Some at the meeting noted that the "Save the Co-Op" campaign could be a boon to local environmentalists and recyclers. "We can recycle the rhetoric of the unsuccessful 'Save the Point' campaign for use here," according to Save the Point task force spokesman, Don Sheepish. "Even the 'Save the Point' bumperstickers can be reused by covering 'Point' with 'Co-Op.'We are going to use minimum wage dishwashers from the Cosimo's to help out with this task."

Whatever the outcome, many in the community welcome a rebirth of the unrealistic expectations, empty rhetoric, and financial irresponsibility that our community was once famous for. A group of members is preparing to chain themselves to Co-Op shopping carts, if the Co-Op turns over operations to another retailer.

Happy Thanksgiving from HPP!!


Richard Gill said...

Not only are they planning to chain themselves to Co-op shopping carts, they want to boycott the new Hyde Park store and buy groceries at chain stores on Roosevelt Road. Yeah, take that.

SR said...

I got my ballot in the mail over the weekend. The Coop webpage advises:

"If you are a member and do not receive a ballot in the mail in a reasonable time, go to the Co-Op membership booth with your member number and proof of identity . You will be issued a special ballot. Note will be taken that the special ballot was issued and Project LEAP will process it in a special way during the count to avoid fraud."

Erin said...

omg. such a hilarious post.

Peter Rossi said...

we am to please!

Richard Gill said...

In the November 27 on-line edition of the Chicago Maroon ( is an article headlined "U of C names potential Co-op replacements." The article also reports on the November 26 Co-op Board meeting, which apparently was rather raucous. At the end of the article is a statement that suggests the Co-op has not obtained the outside loan they were seeking...a remark to the effect that nobody has shown up on their doorstep offering money, other than the U of C's offer. Anyone know what's going on with the Co-op's effort to raise money?

Note, in the article, someone's remark at the meeting about how moral it would be to struggle and go down in flames. Moral, my...foot. Don't they know that every day the Co-op struggles on is another day of harm to this community?

Anyway, more good journalism by the Maroon.

chicago pop said...

Interesting statement about the "morality" of going down in flames.

Again, the bankruptcy of attachment to this organization: how moral is it to advocate a plan the result of which is that most of the small creditors, including employees and small vendors, will lose?

LPB said...

My understanding is that $14,000 has thus far been pledged in the Co-Op's capital campaign. However, please note that 40% of that figure is coming from Rob Stanek, James Withrow, and Sharonjoy Jackson (for a combined total of $5600).

According to some folks who attended the board meeting on Monday evening, anything less than $250,000 in pledges is unlikely to make an impression on any potential lenders.

Famac said...

The letter from the Herald to its readers last week was very interesting for several reasons. It never mentioned money owed the University, only to Certified.

It also made it sound like the 47 Street lease was the Co-Op's only mistep -- forgeting the Scan Furniture foray, and subsequent closing. The Co-Op has a rich history of squandering shareholder equity.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Thanks to Richard Gill for monitoring the Maroon on this topic.

The article had two interesting numbers:

1)The Co-Op mailed out 19,600 ballots. So even if those are actual, living members, and the addresses are all correct, it means they don't have data on 25% of their membership (they told Crain's they had 26,000 members).

2) Poueymirou mentioned casually that the U of C had offered $4 million in this whole fiasco. That implies the University will forgive 1.2 million in back rent, will pay off Certified (2.2 mil) for 47th Street, and pay some $600K more in miscellaneous supplier bills.

The upshot is that the University is paying through the nose to avoid "Save the Co-Op" campaigning that would stall yet another improvement in Hyde Park. I, for one, am getting tired of bone-headed activism in this neighborhood that causes millions of dollars in unnecessary extra costs to reasonable projects. Anyone else?

Peter Rossi said...

I'm with beth on this. Why should the University pay thru the nose just to satisfy folks who can't even articulate their position much less do anything positive about it.

Hyde Park is, in many ways, dead. The death of retail and development is the direct responsibility of NIMBY's.

It is time to elect an alderman who is pro-development and is willing to understand that folks who show up at the HP Neighborhood club are a tiny, tiny fraction of the residents of HP who are NOT heard. Our elected officials are elected to represent ALL the people not just the NIMBY elitists.