Friday, December 21, 2007

Snow Dog Dreams

The Abdominabable Snowdog

Me and the man here are going to go spike the eggnog, pull out the Jack London, and dream about the Great White North. Then maybe go hop around in the Chicago slush. While we're doing that, HPP will be offline, and no comments will be moderated between December 21, 2007 and January 2, 2008. So keep the fire going, give a howl at the moon, and see you next year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Herald's Chicken: A Deeper Shade of Yellow

posted by Peter Rossi

Just when you thought that the Herald's "coverage" of the closing of the Co-Op couldn't possibly get worse or more biased, the Herald surprises with "Co-Op Board Rejects Members Pleas" (lead story in the December 19th edition).

The idea here is that the Co-Op board, in honoring the clear majority of votes for option A , was rejecting the pleas and exhortations of barely 75 people attending the board meeting (see Richard Gill's recent post for an accurate account). Option A, you may recall, replaces the moribund Co-Op with a new grocer thanks to a multi-million dollar gift from the University of Chicago. The votes of some 3200 members don't count. We learn that they were duped by a slick PR campaign.

This is classic NIMBY logic -- only a few enlightened and privileged souls should lead our community. The rest are too gullible or too easily swayed by logical reasoning. The reality of the mountain of Co-Op debt, farcical mismanagement, and customer alienation be damned!

Who perpetrated this latest Herald outrage? There is no by-line. Perhaps, some poor Herald reporter, who was ordered to write this drivel, is trying to preserve hope for a career at a real newspaper. More likely, this story was written by heavy-handed Herald publisher, Bruce Sagan. It is ironic that Mr. Sagan asks others to stand up against the evil University but is unwilling stand up and be counted himself.

The self-congratulating reporting of "Hyde Park Businessman" Bruce Sagan's last minute, hollow offer of $500,000 is particularly amusing. Where was Mr. Sagan during the pledge drive? Will Mr. Sagan forgive the Co-Op's unpaid advertising bills? Two can play this game. I've decided to pledge $10,000,000 to the McGovern campaign of 1972 myself.

Of course, the Herald fails to note the courageous efforts of Co-Op board members (including some who were against option A) and Alderman Preckwinkle to patiently explain that the Co-Op is bust with its own members voting it out of existence. The Herald doesn't report the outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations of bribery and extortion that filled the air of the meeting.

The story is chocked full of quotes from a Mr. Mulberry making such outrageous statements as that Mr. Sagan could find "100,000" friends to contribute to the Co-Op. The Herald, through Mr. Mulberry, paints a picture of a populist grassroots campaign against the PR machine greased by the University. Herald forgets to note that the house organ, The Evergreen, was full of NIMBY nonsense on why you should vote for B and was sent to all members. Those in favor of Option A did not have access to this mailing list.

The splurge of yellow journalism ends with a thinly disguised threat of a "class action lawsuit." As usual, the Herald simply speculates, wistfully, about this and can't name any source. If this pipedream comes about, it will be interesting to learn how the "class" will be defined in the lawsuit -- all those who have suffered food poisoning from Co-Op purchases?

The Herald is one of the longest-lived neighborhood papers, providing endless examples of editorializing in the news pages. I offer a smattering of headlines from the past and wish everyone a very Happy Holiday:

(while none of these are actual headlines from the Herald, many are based very closely on actual headlines -- try to guess which ones these are)

"Herald Investigates: M.S.I. Coal Mine Revealed to be a Fake"

"University Eyes Englewood Ghetto"

"Nieman-Marcus Signs 47th Street Lease"

"City to Pave Over Point"

"Despres admits - 'I'm a Communist'"

"Herald Investigates: Alderman Receives Campaign Contribution"

"Point Revetment Predates European Settlement"

"Doctor's Hospital Missing Work of Louis Sullivan"

"Woodlawn Renamed Saul Bellow Drive"

"Borders Dooms Local Bookstores"

"Herald Investigates: SECC arm of University"

"Sacred Shrine Found in International House"

"Herald Investigates: Parking Spaces Disappear at Night"

"Flu Outbreak Linked to Mid-Rise Development"

"Antheus Capital Buys Rockefellar Chapel"

"Moresbach Donates Parking Space to City"

"57th Street Mailbox on 'Orange' Preservation Alert"

"HP Historical Society Endows NIMBY Center at U of C"

(answer: all of them, ho, ho, ho!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Card to Bruce Sagan of the Hyde Park Herald

posted by chicago pop

Here's looking at you, kid!

Yours, Charles Foster Kane

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Report From the Final Co-Op Board Meeting

posted by Richard Gill

My wife and I attended the Dec, 17 Co-Op Board meeting. About 75 people attended, and I estimate at least 25 percent of those were employees.

By my watch, the meeting ran three (3) hours and 18 minutes, broken down as follows: 2 hours, 48 minutes of discussion from the audience; 25 minutes in executive session; 5 minutes of open session, during which the Board voted.

Media were there - Tribune, Channel 7, Herald, maybe others. They stayed for the whole meeting.

Based on audience misbehavior at the meeting, I want to commend: the entire Board for valor in the line of fire; James Withrow for unhesitating adherence to the election results and doing, with a heavy heart, what he thought was right; Jay Mulberry (not a Board member) for openly stating his favorable assessment of the vote-counting process, though the voting results clearly disappointed him; and Board president Jim Poueymirou for extreme courage under fire, patience and restraint in the face of insults and abuse, and clarity in his explanations. Similar praise for Alderman Preckwinkle, who was there and spoke about the realities and was peppered with audience abuse for her efforts.

The final Board vote was 7-to-1 in favor of Option 'A', with Director Mueller casting the lone dissenting vote. Director Stanek was absent.

I won't try to chronicle the whole meeting (you had to be there). Here are just some of the highlights.

Several shouted charges of collusion, corruption, being on-the-take, leveled at the University, the Board, Certified, Alderman Preckwinkle. Most - but not all - of this came from employees and a few "activists". This then was followed by cheering and feel-good yelling. Interruptions by employees got so bad that Bruce Brandfon, the store's general manager, had to try to get them to exercise some civility.

There was much audience speech-making among themselves, much rehashing of history and many words about matters beyond the Board's control.

There were audience attempts to belittle and discredit the election.

Sue Walker, of the Herald, announced that Bruce Sagan would pledge a half-million dollars - which the Board explained more than once was too little, too late.

After a number of audience charges that the Board had not involved enough people, James Withrow asked them where they had been all the years that nobody was volunteering for committee work.

Many in the audience demonstrated either a total misunderstanding of economics, bankruptcy and the law, or willful denial of all of the above. Many made wishful remarks about what if they had more time, what if they could ask for this or that; a lot of what-ifs, which more than one Board member explained, more than once, doesn't pay the bills.

Several in the audience made statements about how the Co-Op had been a community center, a democratic institution, etc. As has been previously observed, the sentimentality went far beyond anything that would be felt for a store. It was more like the Co-Op had been Hyde Park's Mother Ship, and it was now imploding.

There was also much negative talk about Treasure Island and Certified.

Jo Reizner and Susan Campbell, of the U of C, attended the meeting and stayed throughout. They were asked to speak. Ms. Campbell briefly and clearly (amid interruptions) stated the University's position.

Near the end of the audience session, someone suggested that the Board had to vote against Option A because of the general anti-Option A sentiment in the audience. Someone shouted something like, "How come nobody here is speaking for Option A; they didn't even come to the meeting." At that point, I felt I had to say something. I raised my hand and was called upon to speak. First, I stated my name, said I voted for Option A and hoped the Board would do the same. Next I said that people who charged bribe-taking and corruption should be ashamed of themselves for making such unsubstantiated accusations. An employee tried to interrupt me, but I yelled back and wasn't interrupted again. I then said that over 5000 votes had been validated. I said further that there were just a few dozen people in the room who could not claim to be representative of the Co-Op's membership.

When the Board came out of executive session, Mr. Poueymirou said that they had called the University and asked if a time extension might be possible. He said the answer had been 'no.' He said this meant the Board still had only Options A and B from which to choose. The Board then voted for Option A, and the meeting was adjourned.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Postmortem on the Co-Op

posted by Peter Rossi

The vote (3200 to 2049) by the members of the Co-Op and the decision of the Co-Op Board (7-1) to shutter the store is one of the more remarkable events seen in Hyde Park in many years.

There is much to be learned from the vote and the community foment that preceded it.

What We Learned About the Co-Op and Retail in Hyde Park

I learned that there are many Hyde Parkers who hate the Co-Op with a passion. Witness the dozens of "good riddance" comments posted to the Chicago Tribune web site in response to their saccharine story about the good old times.

This deep resentment was not born overnight. Many recount stories of poor treatment and spoiled food that date from the 1980s. I can still remember a Co-Op bag person screaming at a patron in the early 1980s because this person hadn't said "please." Customers were treated with indifference at best, quality has been poor, and selection has been very limited. My mother, a member of the Co-Op from 1955 to 1967, noticed the bad smell of rotting fish and produce while visiting in the 1980s. The experience of shopping at the tawdry Co-Op is remembered by many a U of C alum of the time (including the current President). These are not pleasant memories.

This increasing discontent started a slow erosion in the Co-Op customer base. That and increased competition from Peapod and Roosevelt Road would have eventually spelt the death of the Co-Op. The demise of the Co-Op was only hastened by its own silly expansion plans.

How can an affluent and highly educated customer base in Hyde Park find itself with a malfunctioning supermarket? It was a combination of a not very savvy landlord and the decline of our neighborhood.

In the late 1990s, the Co-Op's landlord renovated the Hyde Park Shopping Center and signed the Co-Op to a new long-term lease. The plans for this renovation were singularly unimaginative and timid. U of C Vice President Hank Webber was approached by Whole Foods, which thought it could find a good home in Hyde Park. The size of the Co-Op is perfect for WF (32,000 sq ft), and Hyde Park is better suited for a niche market than a competitor for the 100,000 sq ft plus stores found elsewhere in Chicago.

Mr. Webber dismissed Whole Foods as "too expensive" for U of C students. What poppycock! There are Whole Foods in Madison, Ann Arbor, Amherst, and Cambridge. Even "poverty stricken" grad students like to hang out at expensive coffee shops and trendy food outlets (there is a whole city called Berkeley devoted to this). Many U of C undergrads have well heeled parents who would be glad to see their kids getting good quality food. We should not sell short the many professionals, not associated with the U of C, who make HP their home.

But it was not just Hank Webber's bad judgment that got us in this pickle. It was also the lack of competition. If the Co-Op were located at 18th and Michigan Avenue, it would last about five minutes. The new residents of the South Loop have many grocery shopping alternatives. In Hyde Park, we are an economic backwater where the lack of competition keeps obsolete institutions afloat. We need large scale retail development with name brand retailers and much more housing. This is possible but requires vision.

What We Have Learned About the Decision-Making Process

Most issues of importance in our community are decided at "community meetings" called by local officials (often the alderman). These meetings are attended by a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of our community residents, usually the same tired group of NIMBYs. Examples include the disgraceful meetings on Doctor's Hospital and the Point (at a Point meeting, local "activist" Jack Spicer bused in residents of Montgomery Place to pad the crowd estimates).

The game is to see if you can turn out 50+ shouting and angry people, most of whom don't have the slightest idea of what they are protesting or why.

In the case of the Co-Op, we had such a meeting at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. Little of substance was discussed and a great deal of mis-representation was practiced by various local NIMBYs.

Imagine that there had been no vote. The sense of the Board would certainly have been --- save the Co-Op at all costs.

Instead, there was a membership vote. It turned out that the people who showed up at the HPNC were NOT representative of Co-Op members. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of a shutdown. Imagine if we had polled the community where there are thousands of pissed-off former members!

So we were lucky this time. A decision was made on the basis of valid information and a more or less democratic process. The opportunities for demagoguery were limited by the vote.

This model should be applied to other, even more important, issues in our community such as the Doctor's Hospital, Sale and Development of Harper Court, the proposed new development at the Village Center, and (last but not least) the Point.

The 53rd Street Vision workshop is a start in the right direction, but we should remember that many interested and reasonable people won't attend these sorts of events. Many believe that we elect government officials to fend for our interests. Over the past few years, our local officials have not exercised leadership on behalf of their constituents. If our alderman are uncertain of neighborhood opinion, some sort of survey or poll should be attempted. This is the only way to make informed decisions. Community meetings and the letters to the editor section of the Herald are a good source for amusement but not for community sentiment.

Oh Yeah.

posted by chicago pop

The membership vote to determine the future of the Hyde Park Co-Operative Society, which runs Hyde Park's only supermarket, has been decided.

A majority of voters chose Option A, to close the Co-Op and allow a buyout from the University of Chicago, over Option B, to pursue bankruptcy or a commercial loan.

The Co-Op will therefore cease to exist as a business entity sometime in the very near future.

Here's the tally:

Option A: 3200
Option B: 2049

To put this in perspective: in 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson won the presidential election by the greatest margin in US history: 61 - 38 % of the popular vote.

In politics, this election is the definition of a landslide.

And those number are almost exactly the margin of victory for Option A over Option B:
60- 39 %.

So, if you're looking for some way to celebrate the coming New Year, you can either drop by the upcoming funeral dirge on 55th next Monday, and check in with all the long-march dead-enders, or you can run into the streets of this studious and scholastic little neighborhood, throw a rutabega into the air, and kiss the next dude or dame that comes your way, like this:

C'est toi que j'aime, non pas Le Co-Op...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Solstice Development Approved by Chicago Plan Commission

posted by Peter Rossi

The Solstice on the Park development at 56th and Cornell has received approval of the Chicago Plan Commission. The next step will be a vote of the zoning subcommittee of the City Council. Given the support of 5th ward Alderman, Leslie Hairston, it is very likely this vote will be affirmative.

It looks like we are going to have the first significant multi-unit development in Hyde Park in over 15 years.

Alderman Preckwinkle: the ball is in your court to get the stalled development in the 4th ward off the mark. McMobil, Harper Court, Village Center and 53rd and Cornell are all in limbo. The 4th ward can rise again but we need action on a large scale. Make no little plans!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Word on 53rd: Put a Mid-Rise at McMobil

posted by chicago pop

In the aftermath of what, by all accounts, including my own, was a smashingly successful community meeting on the future of the 53rd Street TIF District, it seems like a good time to revisit our favorite little stretch of 53rd.

Side Face of a 6-Story Building Behind McMobil Lot
(5220 S. Kenwood)

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, it will come as no surprise to you what we think should happen at the McMobil site on 53rd and Kenwood. We want to see a mixed-use, mid-rise building put right there. Like the buildings of similar height just yards away. Not surprisingly, a group of folks want a building here which allows for more cars, fewer and therefore more expensive units, with none of these preferences based on substantiated arguments as to why a bigger building would be worse.

Mid-Rise, 8-Story Versailles a Block Away from McMobil Site
(5254 S. Dorchester)

In previous posts, we've gone over the reasons why we think a mixed-use mid-rise is a good idea, and in fact fits with the character of the neighborhood. The alpha and omega of this issue -- something which goes against the very core of the NIMBY soul -- is that Hyde Park needs more people. We've gone over the demographics here, and made it clear that the decline in neighborhood retail is linked to the decline in neighborhood population, and not just here but throughout the South Side.

We've also pointed out the research demonstrating that, as household density goes up, auto ownership goes down. That means fewer people actually chose to own cars. That's good for congestion. And the environment. And when retailers decide to locate nearby concentrations of shoppers, that means fewer trips by car are necessary. If NIMBYs don't want a building here, congestion is not going to be a convincing bogeyman.

Hyde Park is in fact full of such buildings, sprinkled liberally among low-rise structures. This is the case on 53rd as well, and a building here would in no way depart from the historic texture or precedent of the street or the neighborhood.

Here are a few examples of other mid-rise buildings amid low-rise housing. Does anyone have any complaints about these towers near the intersection of 56th and Kenwood? Can anyone argue that they contribute to congestion on 56th Street?

Residential Mid- and High-Rise Buildings at Intersection of 56th & Kenwood

After the 53rd Street community visioning meeting this past Saturday, I sense that people are starting to realize this, that the Old-Timer resistance to change may be ebbing. Hyde Park needs more people. It needs new people. And it needs new, modern housing to hold them in sufficient numbers to make streets busier and safer.

When you get a chance to build new housing on a major artery of the neighborhood, if you don't try to match what the neighborhood historically supported, you're perpetuating the suburbanization of the inner city that was the vision of Urban Renewal. It's something a lot of NIMBYs still cling to.

A lot of holes have been ripped into the neighborhood in the last 50 years, and the NIMBY crowd has grown accustomed to them. They like their vacant lots, dead space in public parks, empty streets with anemic urban densities, and marginal retail amenities. And they especially like their free street parking.

But none of those things are fundamentally good for the neighborhood. And there is as yet no good reason that has been offered as to why an 8-10 story building shouldn't go on this spot.

When we get a chance to fill one of those holes, and turn some of these things around, we should make the most of it, and in a big way.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Keystone Co-Op #8: The "New" Option B

posted by chicago pop with deep throat

Mastermind of Co-Op Plan for Commercial Loan

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.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Are we all on the take?

posted by Peter Rossi

The news is grim. There is little hope for the Co-Op to go on turning over Hyde Park stomachs. To file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, debt consolidation financing is required. Even the starry-eyed James Withrow admits that there is no hope for chapter 11. The rapacious University of Chicago sits like a vulture waiting to feast on the remains.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a can of soup. It's a pigeon. No. It's the Hyde Park Herald (December 5th edition) to the rescue. The Herald pulled a fast one with an unverified (of course) lead story that there is the possibility of a 2.5 million commercial loan to "bailout" the Co-Op. Those news hounds at the Herald beat a confession out of the Co-Op Board President that there had always been a commercial loan on the table.

I am sorry to let reality intrude on this pipe dream, but there are at least three catches:
1. there are conditions on the loan. The U of C must forgive the 1.2 million in back rent and Certified must allow themselves to be bought out of their 47st street lease on the cheap (for only one year's rent)
2. 2.5 million only goes half way to erase the mountain of Co-Op debt (more than 5 million)
3. The Co-Op must be a going concern. The myth started by Sir James is that the 55th street store makes a profit of 1 million per year. Our own Deep Throat exposed that bit of fancy. Not paying your rent can make even the anemic Co-Op look rosy.

By now, even the Herald editors must realize that no one really believes anything that the paper tosses out to stir up the pot. So the story goes on to spin the favorite conspiracy web. Here the villain is that sinister organization, the University of Chicago. An "aggressive and well-coordinated effort to convince Hyde Parkers to shut the Co-Op down" is afoot.

How do we know that the University is behind these fliers circulating around the neighborhood? The source, Hyde Park Co-Op manager Bruce Brandfon, says it is "likely that the University bankrolled this effort." The Herald fails to cite any actual evidence that the University is behind any of the recent efforts to persuade Co-Op members to vote for option A. It's bad enough to splash rumors on the front page but when the source of the rumor has a direct interest keep the Co-Op around so he can get paid for a few more months, you do want to scream.

The first to start pointing fingers at our fair University was James Withrow (who is employed by the University). Mr. Withrow accused the University of stuffing the "fact sheet" that was sent with the ballots down the throats of the Co-Op board. Mr. Withrow has since apologized for his error in his own private blog. So like many NIMBY conspiracy theories it has acquired a life of its own divorced from reality. In a recent email, prominent NIMBY Jay Mulberry aped the University theory stating without a shred of proof, "Option A is represented by a PR machine, financed by the University and supported by workers from Alderman Preckwinkle's office."

But what of it? If it is true that the University is lobbying Hyde Parkers to shutter the Co-Op, why aren't we all shouting-- Go Maroons!

It is hard to understand why the University comes out such a villain on the Co-Op. They have been most patient (some say financially irresponsible) in allowing the Co-Op to have a free line of credit for 1.2 million. They have offered to pay more than 5 million to bring a real grocery store into our neighborhood. The university competes on an national level for students and faculty. On this issue, the neighborhood and University interests are perfectly aligned. If the University wants to pay a subsidy to obtain a better quality grocery store than we would get otherwise, let them spend their money.

Our friends in the Herald editorial suite are mystified by the University. In their editorial, they wonder out loud why the University is so determined to bring a quality store to our neighborhood. Are the Herald editors too tightly wrapped in the NIMBY flag to see the obvious or are they too beholden to the Co-Op ad revenue and worried that Dominicks will not advertise in a tiny paper with an aging and shrinking readership?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Leon Shernoff Warns: University Harvesting Organs of Co-Op Members

posted by chicago pop

Co-Op Insider Cracks University Plot, Then Goes Insane

Who is Leon Shernoff? If you don't happen to have your pack of Co-Op baseball cards laid out in front of you, he's the dude who puts together the Evergreen, the "Newspaper of the Hyde Park Cooperative Society." That's right, another astute journalistic organ based right here in Hyde Park.

Up until Vol. 60, #10, December 2007 of the Evergreen, it was a folksy and disarmingly honest little window into the dysfunctionality of a community-run commercial enterprise. (LIES!)

It's how we learned all the Onion-like details of daily management at the Co-Op over the years, like how decades-old POS equipment was aced by a devious squirrel, how various unionized cashiers absconded with untold thousands right under the noses of their altruistic managers, or how various vendors stopped returning phone calls from the Co-Op to service their products. (MORE LIES!)

But all that happy gem├╝tlichkeit seems to have evaporated with this last issue. Because in Volume 60, Number 10 of the Evergreen, Leon Shernoff has gone on a paranoid bender of epic proportions. (A NEW LIE EVERY DAY!)

We can only assume that the paranoia that got into this issue is only a fraction of the paranoia that has seized the rogue faction of the Co-Op Board, a minority that has somehow managed, despite their declared affability and simple interest in rutabagas, to shrewdly seize all outlets of communication from the majority and broadcast their strange and none-too-clear tale of intrigue, "illegitimate fact sheets" (FRAUDULENT RESEARCH!) and, best of all "University-sponsored identity harvesting." (BEWARE!)

What is identity harvesting, you ask? Let's ask Leon.

Identity Harvesting by the University
In their frenzy to smear the Co-Op, the university has even resorted to unethical means of information gathering. At the November 26th Board meeting, university administrator Jo Reizner attended and tried to guilt-trip the Co-Op with stories of how many shoppers were leaving the area to avoid shopping at the Co-Op. She said that an unnamed supermarket at Roosevelt Road keeps track of its customers via an identity card, and has shared that information with the university, leading to the revelation that shoppers from the 60615 and 60637 area codes spend about $100,000 a week at this grocer. She proudly revealed this research at the meeting, apparently unconcerned with the massive privacy and confidentiality violations involved.

Now let's step back a bit. You know that little magnetized fob on people's key chains, the one that says "Dominick's" or "Jewel"? The thing that gets you a discount every time you check out? Guess what? It has your ZIP code on it, information that you freely provided when you applied for the fob at Dominick's and Jewel so you could get the discount. Lots of people have one. Ever notice how the computer at the gas station asks for your ZIP code when you pay? (SPIES!) It's the same thing. Is it linked to your name, your Social, or any other privileged information? No. Is it aggregated and sold to market research firms? Yes. (STILL MORE LIES!) Is it part of how we know that millions of dollars a year are being spent outside of Hyde Park? Yes.

Is this unethical? Not at all. Are individuals' privacy compromised? Not in the least; this information is given with consent.


As for the $100,000/week spent at an unnamed Roosevelt Road supermarket, there's no news there, we've been talking about leakage at this blog for some time. And most of what we learned came from the Tribune, and they throw much bigger numbers around ("Delivery is oasis in food 'desert'." April 1, 2007).

Shernoff isn't too concerned about that $100,000 number. Why not? "[T]hat $100,000 is about the amount of business the Co-Op does on a Saturday."

Nice job, Leon, losing one day of revenue a week for 52 weeks of the year. Maybe this kind of indifference to losing money is why the Co-Op is insolvent, with twice pledged collateral, and can't get a loan.

By my calculation, that lost revenue amounts to $5.2 million annually.

And that's just money lost to one store. (DISTORTION!)

And it doesn't include all the money going into all those Peapod vans.

Wouldn't that $5.2 million in lost revenue alone be enough to solve most of the Co-Op's problems?


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Crossing 61st Street

posted by chicago pop

Keeping Vacant Lots Vacant in Woodlawn?

The University of Chicago has a longstanding promise, made to representatives of the Woodlawn neighborhood to its south, not to expand south of 61st Street. This agreement was made in 1964, 43 years ago.

At that time, there were two Germanies. China was closed to the outside world. Personal computers did not exist.

Is this pledge, and the anxieties to which it responds, out of date?

I have a feeling it might be. But there's no question that the issue is complicated.

After all, there is expansion through the urban renewal methods of razing and displacing, which did happen in Hyde Park, and didn't happen in Woodlawn; and there are other methods of expansion, through erecting buildings on vacant lots that would otherwise remain magnets for crime, and bringing jobs to a community that will help pay for rents and mortgages.

The University can without a doubt play a role in the latter strategy. It certainly requires sensitivity and open communication with neighbors on the part of the University, but it also requires and openness to change south of 61st Street, with change understood to mean that not all of the people in Woodlawn will always be poor, and that the neighborhood might one day approach the balance of household incomes it has known historically.

Take another look at the above picture of a longtime Woodlawn resident taken near her home. The University, in the end, never did expand south of 61st Street. In fact, it didn't do a thing in Woodlawn during the heyday of urban renewal, when it kept itself busy instead bulldozing solid chunks of Hyde Park.

Hyde Park, comparatively speaking, is now flourishing. Woodlawn has vacant lots the size of city blocks like the one above, not far from where Amadou Cisse was murdered.

The picture is taken from Monday's column by Chicago Tribune writer Dawn Turner Trice, who did the service of pointing out that Amadou Cisse was not the only one murdered recently nearby the University; in fact, two women have been found strangled and burned beyond recognition in garbage cans in or near Washington Park.

Trice spoke with two longtime Woodlawn natives who think the Washington Park homicides would have gotten a lot more media time if they had involved University students. They are probably right. The fact that the Cisse murder got such immediate and sustained attention from the media and from police, Trice argues, is part of why there are powerful racial and class tensions between the University and neighboring Woodlawn to the south.

That's certainly true. But things get a little less clear when the column takes a further turn, and as with so many issues in this part of town, brings it back to real estate. In particular, to the Big Bang of urban renewal, to which so many things around here can be traced back.

Like the idea that, instead of helping to get rid of those vacant lots, provide jobs, and partner with local organizations and developers to build market-rate and affordable housing, the University should be kept out. It all sounds very familiar to anyone who pays attention to Hyde Park politics, because in so many ways the terms of the debate were cast at this historical moment for both neighborhoods.

Trice quotes longtime resident Helen Latimore:

"People still see the University as harboring dreams of taking over our property." Latimore said. "Of waiting until Woodlawn is in such disrepair that all they have to do is swoop down and take it over."

It didn't help that a few years ago, the University hired a planning consultant that recommended the University expand south of 61st Street, which it has long said it wouldn't do. University officials quickly nixed the idea. But not before it reignited the suspicions and the mistrust among some Woodlawn residents.

Woodlawn residents, organized into the vibrant community and civil rights activist organization TWO, helped block University-led urban renewal plans in Woodlawn, and eventually elicited a sort of "61st Street Pledge" from the University in 1964.

But then, in the 1970s, long after most whites had left, most of the black middle class left, too. A neighborhood numbering 81,279 people in 1960, Woodlawn declined to 27,086 in 2000, a loss of 54,193. That kind of loss is not unlike that resulting from the incendiary carpet bombing of a large urban area. It constitutes the death of a neighborhood, if not a large part of a city. The number of vacant lots in Woodlawn and other similar neighborhoods attests to this massive depletion of human capital out of the neighborhood.

But without bringing human capital back in, and allowing investment from outside, things are never going to change.

So does this ban on University development south of 61st Street make any sense today, in the 21st century? Woodlawn may be able to fend for itself, with some of the indirect kind of help and support from the U of C described in a 2006 Chicago Magazine article. And, over the last decade or so, the market has finally started to notice Woodlawn; as the Chicago Reporter notes, "Between 2000 and 2004, the number of single- family attached units sold in Woodlawn tripled."

But this movement represents only a slow nudge towards what Woodlawn used to be. It's been hearly 50 years since things began to slide downhill for Woodlawn, and it may be another 50 before it returns to anything like what it was before it became pocked with vacant lots.

Considering that the University never did tear anything down south of 61st Street, maybe it's time to revisit this old treaty that keeps it behind an asphalt curtain.

Monday, December 3, 2007

53rd Street Visioning Workshop Saturday

Just a little public service announcement reminding folks about this Saturday's visioning workshop for 53rd Street. ( please email rsvp to: ) For once, we have a community meeting with somewhat of a scientific methodology behind it (those electronic keypads), and put together by organizers who have made a real effort to turn out a real cross-section of Hyde Park-Kenwood residents.

It's a big time commitment, but one way to think about it is that with this meeting, you will have dispensed the equivalent labor of attending 4 or 5 less important ones. If you're going to put your time into any community meeting in the next little while, this is probably the one to invest in.

So come let your voice be heard, and tell the Man that you want more currency exchanges, dollar stores, curio shops, cell phone retailers, and third rate restaurants.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Co-Op Pledge Drive "Almost There"

posted by Peter Rossi

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the debt-saddled Hyde Park Co-Op. The Co-Op web site proudly proclaims a total of $26,245 (as of December 1st) has been pledged by members to defray the debt. "We have been surprised at the support the neigborhood has shown us," reported maverick board member Jim Too-Tall Tail. "The pledges we have received so far top our total store revenue for November."

When asked by this Herald reporter why neighbors should support the dying Establishment institution, Mr. Tail responded "People give back in proportion to the contributions that the Co-Op has made to our community."

"The Co-Op's contributions to our community are intangibles that can't be measured by action but must be considered an ethos," added Mr. Tail.

The prospects for the success of the pledge drive are bright, according to Mr. Tail. "At this rate, we may reach $50,000 by the bankruptcy deadline of December 14th. Only the failed 'Save the Point' campaign has raised more money in our community than our drive."

"We hope this signals a return to the hey-day of community activism. Members of our community are putting narrow concerns for their own welfare behind them and reaching out in the cooperative spirit to ensure that we are all worse off."

Tale of the Tape
Co-Op Debt
1.2 million back rent to U of C
2.3 million owed to suppliers
0.685 million 47th store debt
1.01 million owed to Certified
Total: 5.195 million
Pledged: .026 million

"We expect that the fund raising drive will finish successfully around the year 2100," Mr. Tail asserted. "We feel very strongly that there are many lenders who will jump at the opportunity to extend us credit on the strength of this pledge cashflow."

In the past, my Herald's Chicken posts have been commentaries on or parodies of Herald coverage. However, the penchant for NIMBY points of view by Herald reporters and editors allows me to predict future Herald coverage. It is particularly easy to presage Herald articles as most articles do not involve any news content.