Say what you will about chain grocery stores, about "capital" and all the 1960s phobias that make Co-Op die-hards and Hyde Park isolationists shiver. What we're getting from the community of amateurs lately is no more reassuring.
It consists of a deep paranoia projected onto the University of Chicago when all the evidence makes clear that it is the Co-Op itself that is to blame for its current pickle; a laughable arrogance in the conviction that there are higher moral questions involved in this tale of banal mismanagement and play acting; and a revealing sense of entitlement to a continued existence at the expense of the University and other folks willing to keep the Co-Op on the dole.
The New Option B -- since the first one, the one members probably thought they were voting on, is moot, since that the National Cooperative Bank has rejected Chapter 11 financing -- is all about getting a regular commercial loan, with interest and terms, to help keep gas in the Co-Op's tank while the Co-Op gets its act together. This loan, which will only come on condition of an agreement with the University and Certified, has been seized upon by Co-Op savers as the "Third Way" out of the current crisis.
While we're not sure if there is such a thing as a third way out of a hole you've dug yourself into, we're quite sure that there are three questions that hover over the present strategy of Option B supporters now that a third attempt is being made to secure a commercial loan.
Can the Co-Op even secure a commercial loan? On what terms can it be secured? And can it be serviced in such a way as to do more than defer a resolution of the present crisis to a future point in time?
Rather than making an examination of any of these questions, the "Save the Co-Op" website highlights the very distant possibility of restoring some value to member shares, while glossing over the potential risks involved. The "lure" of Option A that is written off as part of a surreptitious, University-sponsored PR campaign is not that different from the "lure" of redeemed member shares here being proffered with next to no assessment of its real probability.
The risks not mentioned on the website include 1) the likelihood of meeting the conditions of a loan, meaning a payment plan agreed to with the University of Chicago on the Co-Op's back rent, and with Certified Grocers on its lease on 47th Street; and 2) the chances that the Co-Op will default on this loan, leading once again to supplier and liquidity troubles, and the threat of liquidation.
The Save the Co-Op website minimizes any downside to Option B because it counts on the University to provide a bailout in the event of the Co-Op's failure in servicing the new loan. In the bizarro-world of Co-Op Director Mueller, this expression of entitlement to financial rescue is "the more moral option."
Here's the key text outlining the preferred scenario from the Save the Co-Op website:
Option B passes but there is no way possible for the Co-Op to get a loan or go into reorganization. At this point the University will either go back to Option A or disgrace itself by allowing the Co-Op to go into liquidation. The idea that the University would allow the dismemberment of the store, the non-payment of merchants, the community with no place to shop, its mall without a keystone, residents heading north for all their shopping, etc. etc. is completely at variance with dozens of statements made by President Zimmer, Henry Webber and other University representatives for months and months. They would be doing what they claim the Co-Op has done -- but doing it with 100 times greater destructiveness.
Essentially, the Co-Op savers are playing a game of chicken with the University. The claim here is that the University is bluffing, that if the Co-Op membership and Board decided to go for Option B, now that debtor-in-possession financing is off the table, the University would in fact come to the Co-Op's rescue because they don't want a shuttered store in the neighborhood. This plan counts on the hegemonic University saving the Co-Op's insolvent but entitled arse.
Somehow or another, at the end of this queer passage, you get the sense that if the Co-Op goes down, it will somehow be the University's fault, rather than that series of friendly, neighborhood Co-Op Boards staffed by your friendly neighbors, the ones who ran this ship into the ground. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, this is what I see as the true fruit of the "democratic center of community involvement" advertised on the Save the Co-Op website.
Rather than stepping up and shutting down a failed business like responsible adults, the Co-Op Savers are acting like spoiled children -- eager to speed around in the family car knowing that if they crash it, Daddy will just buy them a new one.
It's one thing when amateurs botch up their own accounts. We don't have to live with that.
It's another thing entirely when amateurs botch up an enterprise that is supposed to serve the entire community, hold no accountability for the wildest schemes, and then make claims of moral superiority that would make Hugo Chavez cry.