Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Blow-up the Co-Op

posted by Peter Rossi

Another Hyde Park institution has succumbed to foul play on the part of profit-seeking capitalists. The Herald has learned that the Board of Directors will recommend that the Hyde Park Co-Op cave in to pressure from its landlord (boo, hiss) and pursue a "debt-workout" option that will mean the closing of the Co-Op. This option will mean that the Co-Op will be replaced by, horror of horrors, a store managed by those who seek to maximize profits.

Where is our community cooperative spirit? In past years, we have stood firm by our principles that we must endure low-quality produce, bad service, and high prices. Occasionally, the Co-Op sponsored worker solidarity events such as the shutting down of all cash registers for several months. We made our Soviet brothers, who suffered through the siege of Leningrad, proud.

We at the Herald are loath to point fingers, but there is a malaise in community cooperative spirit. We need to stand fast and cling to unrealistic goals. We hope to see a revival of our Quixotic spirit at the community meeting to be held this Sunday. Go forth and demand that we vote FOR keeping the Co-Op, whatever the financial reality is.

These capitalist stooges insist that the Co-Op doesn't have enough funds to continue in operation. This is silly; only last week we started a fundraising drive that has collected several old CTA bus tokens and campus bus tickets. Where is the Co-Op hiding all of the money they have extracted from the working class, the poor, and the elderly with their high prices?

The Board of the Co-Op insists that this is a meeting only for "members" of the Co-Op. Nonsense, the Co-Op is a community institution that we all have a stake in. Just make up a membership number, they have lost their membership records anyway.

We should be deeply suspicious of the machinations of the University of Chicago. This institution is not well-managed with any sense of fiscal responsibility. Who else would front our Co-Op 1.2 million? This is all a part of a secret plan to rob our community of the existential support that the Co-Op has given so generously over the years.

We should be prepared for the worst. The Forces of the Market are very powerful and we must prepare for the closing of our beloved Co-Op. No longer will small groups of community residents be allowed to control our grocery store. The new profit-hungry store will have to cater to ALL of its customers.

We must hold the community hostage and force the capitalists to beg for our precious store location. Let's wire up the old Co-Op and threaten to blow it up if we don't get a hand in selecting the new store owner. We can easily pile old, dry produce in aisle 8 and soak it with wine that has gone bad. A simple detonator based on friction generated by local activists would work nicely. Once the Co-Op is damaged by fire, we will have another trophy of community activism to add to the abandoned St. Stephen's church, shuttered Doctors Hospital, and crumbling Point revetment.

Comrades, spread the word. Only a few gifted thinkers and activists deserve to run our community.

This post is based on an editorial that appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of the Herald. We at HPP are sorry to report that there are only minor differences between our spoof above and the actual editorial.


Famac said...

The Hyde Park Herald's editorial on how the "neighborhood" should let the University know what expectations are shows just how detached from reality the Herald is.

The fact of the matter is the "neighborhood" has already spoken; most are shopping elsewhere, that's why the Co-Op failed. That's the message the University has finally heard, and its the most important one.

The letter from the Co-Op fan which closely followed the editorial/propaganda was a fine piece of unintentional comedy. Like they say; don't speak and prove what people already suspect.

chicago pop said...

What happened to the capital campaign to raise $100 from 35,000 members?

Looks like that went out the window about as fast as members have been cashing out their shares over the last year.

chicago pop said...

I hope they're selling popcorn at the community meeting this weekend because it promises to be more entertaining than anything on ESPN -- fans of bloodlust should expect a good show of factional infighting among the membership. If the Board's history of efficient decision-making based on a common, unified vision of the Co-Op holds true, we can also expect a contest for power at the very top, as the die-hards battle the reformers.

Good stuff.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Chicago Pop, didn't the front page article in the Herald say that the Co-Op Board had decided to endorse the U of C plan? So it would take an as-yet-hidden, rogue faction of the Board to stand up at the Nov. 18 meeting, shout down the reformers, and scream for limestone...

Oops, sorry, I was confusing this community meeting with another infamous meeting in October, 2001.

As I was saying, it would take a rogue faction of the Board to stand up and shout for a capital campaign or bankruptcy.

chicago pop said...

Elizabeth, apparently not all Co-Op Board members agree that the Co-Op agreed to shut itself down as the Herald dutifully reported. Such clarity of purpose is no less than what we would expect from a well-run, community institution and the paper that covers it.

Your analogy with the Point is apt: what kind of Hyde Park community meeting would it be without a rogue faction suddenly appearing and trying to throw things in reverse? Are we really going to let that tradition sink?

Arjun said...

Good riddance to bad rubbish. I no longer live in Hyde Park, but I really miss several aspects of the neighborhood. The main thing that keeps people away is the lack of a good grocery store.

That said, I am still shocked at the number of people who actually support the CO-OP. I think it's a psychological delusion perpetuated by car-less people who have no choice but to shop there. Hyde Park Produce and Stanley's on North Ave also seem to benefit from this delusion.

Unknown said...

Chicago Tribune reported on the Co-op's possible closing today:,0,2534010.story

The video accompanying it is biased, to say the least. Your thoughts?

deep throat said...

The Tribune's video piece suffers from a self-selection bias. By only interviewing shoppers in the 55th Street store, the Tribune is reflecting opinions of those folks who like the Co-Op enough to overlook the dirty floors, empty shelves, and withered produce for the last several years. In other words, the video only captured what some Co-Op diehards think.

Obviously, the Tribune didn't interview any HP folks who have decided to shop elsewhere -- be it Jewel, Dominick's, Costco, Trader Joe's, HP Produce, or Whole Foods -- and by virtue of their shopping choices have already indicated they don't like the Co-Op. Based on the number of letters to the editor of the Herald this week in support of closing the Co-Op and bringing in a new grocer, there are definitely plenty of your neighbors who are ready to shut it down.

LPB said...

In response to Diane Schirf's letter to the Herald this past week, she is apparently not aware that the "standalone" Sweetwaters Cafe in Ann Arbor that she holds up as a model of the small and unique businesses that make Ann Arbor so "charming" is actually one of a local chain.

My cousin and his wife opened the first Sweetwaters Cafe in downtown Ann Arbor over a decade ago. Then, they opened a second store in Saline, MI. Now they offer franchise opportunities, and the most recent franchise store just opened up in Ann Arbor.

Diane Schirf, you stand corrected.

KHS and Kim Hayward, I wasn't kidding when I said that I grew up in my family's business of restaurants and cafes.

Unknown said...

Deep Throat, I agree that the video suffers from gross selection bias. In addition to the slews of Letters to the Editor that The Herald, The Tribune piece received its share of anti-Co-op comments. Good! We need to show that more people are against the Co-op than for it, and hopefully that representation will be in full force come Sunday.

Richard Gill said...

Sorry to say that attendee sentiment at Sunday's meeting was tilted heavily in favor of trying to save the Co-op operation. The Board is split between the Debt Workout (Option A) and Ch. 11 bankruptcy (Option B). Bankruptcy was seen as the "save the Co-op" option; a pledge drive was actually started to support Option B, amid a lot of feel-good chatter. The house was packed (I estimate 400 people, including a few dozen employees, and the meeting ran 3 hours 45 minutes.

After maybe 100 people had left, it was stated that the election is advisory to the Board, and that the Board has final authority over disposition of assets. Alderman Preckwinkle courageously stated, and explained, her opinion that the Co-op financial situation seemed beyond repair, and that bankruptcy is not some automatic cure-all. A few people, myself included, thanked her afterwards.

It became clear at the meeting that those who are strongly attached to the Co-op are not that way just because of food supply or economics. Reaction to the prospect of closing the Co-op sounded more visceral, like (1) fear of losing a relative and (2) fear of not being unique. You would've thought the sky was really about to fall.