Saturday, November 7, 2009

How to be Sicilian 101

Posted by Elizabeth Fama

In a recent article in the Maroon, Hans Morsbach cites the raised rent at his University Market location as the reason the market is closing. The implication -- voiced outright only by UM cashier, Alma Silva, but present in the undercurrent of the interviews in the Maroon -- is that the University is deliberately forcing him out, to make way for a new tenant.

Let's suppose that it's true. Suppose that it finally dawned on the administrators at the University that Mr. Morsbach frequently bites the hand that feeds him. Suppose they noticed, as I did, that he stood in front of Bret Harte on Election Day, 2008 with an enormous tray of free cinnamon rolls for his neighbors, campaigning for a dry 39th precinct, in order to squash the University's plan to build a hotel on the abandoned Doctors Hospital site, and likely costing the University tens of millions of dollars, not to mention depriving the neighborhood of jobs, a decent hotel, and a couple of new restaurants? Suppose the University noticed his literal painting of himself as a martyr against the oppressive establishment, hanging in his restaurant on 57th Street -- a restaurant that arguably thrives because of University students, staff, and catering jobs? Suppose the administrators actually got fed up? (It took them long enough!)

Well, as a Sicilian by heritage and temperament, I'm here to say they did a lousy job in the vendetta department, because somehow Mr. Morsbach wins privately while he publicly "loses."

Am I the only person who noticed that he gets to move the profitable part of his operation at the UM (the deli sandwiches) to his bakery, while cutting loose the unprofitable grocery section, and saving a whole lotta rent in the process? Am I the only one who wonders what business model the next tenant of the UM space is left with, now that Mr. Morsbach has skimmed off the cream of the potential business, and the rent is apparently too high for the location? And Mr. Morsbach gets to do all this while complaining about the University, one of his favorite diversions.

Here's what Michael Corleone would have done after the dry vote debacle, if he had been the University: he would have put a drug-rehab or halfway house in the Doctors Hospital location. He would have said, "Look, you got what you wanted -- we preserved the bland architecture and we're helping the community, all without increasing congestion or taking up public parking spaces on the street."

That, or a severed horse's head on the Market floor the next morning.


Anonymous said...

I guess this means we won't see a mural in UM depicting Hans parting the Red Sea? Or raising the flag at Iwo Jima? Or saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" That's the real loss.

TA said...

Elizabeth, I was thinking the exact same thing. This really is a no lose situation for him since he has all but admitted that UMarket was not a profitable operation for him (sans deli). About the only thing he has to worry about is possibly shifting the space around in the bakery to deal with the increased demand during the lunch hour. The bakery can be a tight squeeze even now so it will be interesting to see how it handles the UMarket lunchtime hordes.

As for the other space, you would think maybe a small restaurant would be able to handle it better than UMarket. My ideal, if feasible, would be to get a Chipotle or something like that in the space. Something small with quick service and decently long enough hours. I wonder if the University already had any new ideas/commitments for the space when they raised Hans' rent.

Richard Gill said...

Seems to me it isn't that important who wins/loses and who looks bad/martyred. What's important is that the University is getting a fresh, new establishment for the neighborhood's benefit, and Hans is out of at least some of his retail space. Morsbach cannot take for granted that he won't eventually be put out of the rest of it. As Beth Fama says in the main post, Morsbach has worked directly (and effectively, unfortunately) to the detriment of the University and the neighborhood. That alone is sufficient reason to throw him out of the stores.

chicago pop said...

I think the claim about the rent hike driving Morsbach out is probably bogus. That makes it seem as if the fact that Morsbach's UM is leaving is incidental. I have a strong feeling that getting Morsbach out of that space was the primary objective. After all, I can certainly think of a few other vendors who could do more than offer so-so sandwiches to Lab Scool kids and college students in that space. Letting Morsbach go on as if he's been waiting all these years to unload the market half of that store is like something out of Sun Tzu: kneecap your enemy, and then heap praise upon him. Once a more competitive vendor goes in there, even the 'profitable half' of the business that will be moved to the bakery may not hold up so well.

Anonymous said...

Once a more competitive vendor goes in there, even the 'profitable half' of the business that will be moved to the bakery may not hold up so well.

Z&H would clean up in that location. The funny thing is, their business model is pretty similar to UM... just about a million times better.

ithinkonlyofmyself said...

The comments for this post nicely demonstrate why HPP has progressively isolated itself from other Hyde Parkers who might be sympathetic to its general stated aims.

Elizabeth Fama said...

356 unique visitors yesterday, 57 followers.

TA said...

ithinkonlyofmyself... what exactly are you talking about? Is it C Pop's insistence that the UMarket sandwiches aren't that good or that rent may not have been the issue?

Either way, I think you are making a tempest in a teapot. For one thing, not all of us agree with C Pop on the merits of UMarket sandwiches. I, for one, do like them and probably will try out the deli in the bakery.

On the other side though, I think C Pop may be indirectly right on the rent. While the University may have upped Han's rent, all they seemed to be showing was that this was not a very viable business except for the deli. Can you really blame the University for wanting to free up a prime location for a new food vendor?

Really I think this is a win all around. Hans gets to keep the profitable deli, lose the unprofitable market, and rail against the University. The University gets a new tenant who can probably pay more rent. Lastly, Hyde Park gets more food variety in a prime location just off of campus.

Raymond said...

Make it 58 followers. I never bothered to "sign up" until now.

Patrick said...

Z&H's blog entry today comprises the single sentence:

"interesting news later today......"

Dare we hope that Greg's wish might come true?