Saturday, December 15, 2007

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...


Brian said...

This is the best news I've heard all month. Thanks for sticking to this story like white on rice, guys - the coverage has been excellent (of course my alternative was the HP Herald, so it's not like you had much competition).

Peter Rossi said...

Now let's lobby for Dominick's!!! TI is a sick puppy

Famac said...

I would like to say that I hope the best for Bruce Branfon and the rest of the Co-Op employees. They obviously had nothing to do with the Co-Ops foolish and greedy decision to lease the 47th Street location, but they now have to pay the price.

This is a bad time of year for all of these things to happen, obviously. But with school out of session, now is the best time to make a transition -- while also stopping further financial losses.

I also hope James Withrow and company take this opportunity to bow out of the equation gracefully, which can best be demonstrated by a unanamous vote to close -- as a gesture towards the democratic process which has just been completed.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Ding dong, the witch is dead.

More about the numbers:
19,000 ballots were mailed.
18,350 reached their destination.
946 returned ballots were spoiled.
So it appears that 6195 people voted (which is 33%).

Am I the only one who thinks that the other 67% were likely apathetic because they already shop out of the neighborhood (and thus "voted" for Option A with their feet)? Put another way, only 11% cared passionately enough to vote to keep the Co-Op?

Also, I'm curious, is 33% an anemic turnout for an election?

chicago pop said...

Good question, Beth, I bet there's a lot to the voter apathy thing. Take, for instance, my brother-in-law, who had every intention to vote for A, but forgot to do it by the deadline!

chicago pop said...

...and said b-in-law had stopped shopping there a while ago.

Richard Gill said...

Re the turnout: Typically, the Co-op's annual election of Directors gets a turnout of less than 5% (That's right, less than five percent).

Peter Rossi said...

there is a VERY important lesson in this. We need to have ways of learninng public opinion in our neighborhood -- not just community "meetings" (or shout contests) and letters to Herald's Chicken.

Our elected officials cannot serve the people who elect them since they don't know what they want.

We should have an annual survey using scientific random sampling methods and with a high response rate (see beth's comment) that could be used to ask public opinion about the important issues such as the Point, Co-Op, Doctor's Hospital, etc. This could be done by an independent research organization for cheap.

This would mean that the wannabee demi-gods (you know who) would have their power over our elected officials cut out from under them

Peter Rossi said...

Note the omnious "advisory" aspect of this vote.

We could very well have James Withrow turn up and argue against the vote on Monday Dec 17th.

If Mr. Withrow is truly sincere about serving his community, he should admit defeat and support the closing of the Co-Op as soon as possible.

This will be a true test of his colors!

We can only imagine what utter horses**t will be printed in the Herald. A terrible defeat for the community. This happened on the Point-- when it became apparent that a large number of people supported the city plan, the Herald resorted to character assasination.

I predict the line will be "3200 people duped by the cynical manipulations of the University of Chicago."

terranwannabe is certainly right. A number of folks have said to me -- come on don't beat a dead horse.

On to bigger game.

Raymond said...

I'm utterly shocked by this. I really thought the dinosaurs would carry the day on this one. Let's hope everybody takes the hint and we move on without any more fight.


Famac said...

R Gill - I wish you had let that 5% vote be known earlier -- it would have been a great post all on its own.

Let me repeat:

"I also hope James Withrow and company take this opportunity to bow out of the equation gracefully, which can best be demonstrated by a unanamous vote to close -- as a gesture towards the democratic process which has just been completed."

EdJ said...

I have visions of the Herald editors choosing from two pre-set headlines for the next issue, a la "Citizen Kane": "Proposal B Selected in Landslide" or "Proposal B Defeated, Fraud at Polls"

Peter Rossi said...

great comment from edj.

Ben said...

I agree that the better scenario would be for Dominick's to fill that spot. My concern is that Treasure Island won't be able to satisfy the entire neighborhood. It's a bit pricier than Dominick's, and I can just hear them now screaming about how we kicked out the marvelous and affordable co-op for a place half the neighborhood can't afford to shop. Of course, the 47th street localtion will also be available and perhaps open the way for some nice competition. North Kenwood and Oakland are in a much better position to support a grocer now than when the 47th street location was originally in operation. So long Co-op, let's build from this positive momentum!

Famac said...

Their overconfidence was their weakness...

erith1 said...

I used to look forward to the Herald (especially the letters to the editor) so I could chuckle on my own. Now I enjoy it twice as much trying to guess which journalistic atrocity will be selected for this blog.

But I am practically giddy thinking about this week's issue...

Peter Rossi said...

let's not let the Withrow's of the world rewrite history.

By the early 80s, the Co-Op had become a joke.

This had nothing to do with the 47th street expansion. This actually was a boon. Without 47th over-extension, the Co-Op would have straggled on earning it's local monopoly rents for as long as the U of C was dumb enough to give it a lease.

The sorry history of the Co-Op in the last 25 years is what happens when competition is restrained by the decline of Hyde Park.

We must bring more people and retail competition to Hyde Park or we can't expect to do much better than these sort of sorry excuses for stores.

People in Hyde Park hate the Co-Op and it took them a long time to build up such passion.

That is the message of the death of the Co-Op.

That is why we must work hard to encourage large scale development in Hyde Park. Without competition and customer base, any replacement is doomed to failure as well.

Peter Rossi said...

to famac's repeat-- amen!!!

Dwade said...

I am thrilled to hear this news! I do feel badly for those Co-Op employees who are now out of a job, but as a consumer, I'm happy. A Dominick's in Hyde Park would be a most welcome addition to our community in my opinion.

Famac said...

I also hope Dominicks is the store. Certified supplies Treaure Island, just like the Co-Op.

In my mind, the relationship between the Co-Op and Certified was pretty suspicious: the Co-Op is a shareholder of Certified. Certified leases a spot on 47th Street. The Co-Op subleases it for 25 years, then stops paying the University its rent.

It has a very City of Chicago feel to it in my opinion.


I don't know when the last time you compared prices was but the Co-Op is only rivaled by Whole Foods cost-wise. No one is going to complain the Co-Op was affordable.

Unknown said...

"I can just hear them now screaming about how we kicked out the marvelous and affordable co-op for a place half the neighborhood can't afford to shop."

The Co-op wasn't exactly affordable, and it was much too expensive for what it offered. It always looked like it was hurricane season and people had attacked the aisles, stocking up on food...except it was just poorly stocked in the first place.

I agree Dominick's would be better (I saved $16/24% last time I shopped there, hellz yeah), but I don't think the "affordable" line would work too well in favor of the Co-op.

Ben said...

Sorry, that wasn't my opinion on the affordability of the co-op. I agree that it was way overpriced for what was offered. My point is only to say that if someone is going to have somewhat of a monoploy in the neighborhood, then we want that entity to satisfy the greatest number of households. I know plenty of HPers who shop at Whole Foods, but I also know many more who can not afford to do so. In my opinion, between TI and Dominick's, Dominick's provides the best in affordability and selction.

Famac said...

Well, the great thing about 12th Street is it now holds the bright light of competition on whatever store assumes the Co-Op's operation.

The Whole Foods on 12th Street is an amazing place -- the produce section is spectacular.

So its going to be really important for the new grocer to be mindful that many Hyde Parkers have to be convinced to change a well worn drill.

edj said...

From today's Sun-Times:

"A top official at the university told me that he felt there were two issues," said board member James Withrow, who wanted to keep the store open but will vote in favor of the closing plan. "Should the Co-Op go on, and can the Co-Op go on? I think this election ultimately was about both."

City Observer said...

Can I please ask one simple question?

What are the chances that the auto-oriented strip center that the Co-op is a part of will eventually get demolished and replaced with a development more suitable to the neighborhood?

When I lived in Hyde Park (and I plan to move back there again, eventually), that was one of my biggest pet peeves. That shopping center really discourages pedestrians. I would have loved to walk to the shops there (I only lived 4 blocks away), but the way the center is designed basically makes such a thing hazardous to your health, for no reason. What a shame.

I would love for there to be an opportunity to redevelop this property into something more considerate to pedestrians. This is a huge problem with strip centers in the city and luckily the powers that be are beginning to recognize this. Why MUST the car be given the red carpet to my detriment? I'd like the University to seriously consider tearing the whole thing down and starting over.

Is there any hope of this ever happening?


Famac said...

I know what you're talking about Tupper. Unless you live west or north of the corner the Coo-Op is located on, you have to cross Lake Park or 55th Street - both four lane killing fields. Tearing it down wouldn't help; its the location that can't be improved. Plus if you live east of Lake Park, you have to traverse the viaducts under Metra which is usually a nail bitter, though some accuse you of racism if you say it.

chicago pop said...

It's true that the 55th-Lake Park shopping center is hugely hostile to pedestrians. I'm not sure, however, that in this case there is anything to do about it, at least until the thing is torn down and redesigned to be more like the Target on Roosevelt, or several of the Whole Foods (Evanston, Ashland) that have structured parking decks on top, thus preserving a pedestrian friendly street facade (and expanding floor area).

That may be a while down the road, however. Meantime, there are several smaller, strip-mall retail centers that should be razed and redeveloped as soon as developers and backers are found. They include 1) the Village Foods complex at 51st and Lake Park, and 2) Kimbark Plaza (which is also a retail cooperative!)

SR said...

Yay, good riddance!

No one is going to complain the Co-Op was affordable.

But they can always make up crazy lies about it later. One of the themes of the “Save the Coop” stuff was that its prices had suddenly become reasonable in the last 3 months or so. Who shopped there often enough lately to know if that’s true or not? Not me. I expect to be hearing a lot of complaints about price if we don’t get a cheaper store in that location, even if the new store is no more expensive than the Coop usually was.

If I had to pick a date, I would say the 47th St. deal was the moment when many members who hate the Coop began to do so (rather than considering it just one of many sorry retail outlets in the neighborhood). The Board’s determination to go to tremendous, expensive lengths to prevent the neighborhood from having stores other than the Coop to shop at in the 47th & 53rd St. locations was just infuriating at the time.

mchinand said...

The viaduct at 55th/Lake Park has been renovated so it's a little better. The pedestrian signals now talk, but I'm not sure if that's really an improvement except for the blind.

Erin said...

yes to dominicks, no to treasure island. ti is a wannabe fox and obel - expensive for the same old stuff.

this is exciting though. maybe my husband and i will finally start doing our grocery shopping in hyde park instead of going down to the jewel on stony or up to the whole foods on roosevelt....and i wonder how many others will do the same...probably a lot. This is great for hp!

chicago pop said...

Yes, this could be a "tipping point" for the neighborhood, with all sorts of secondary effects on local retail and development. It may even help to undercut the NIMBY lobby by making HP a more desirable place to live and pushing up demand to live here accordingly.

Famac said...

sr (or anyone)

Are there an Board members now serving that were part of the 47th Street debacle?

Elizabeth Fama said...

This event could also undercut the NIMBY lobby by simply making it clear to aldermen and developers that the NIMBYs do not, in fact, run the joint. For example, see Raymond's astonishment above that the "dinosaurs" didn't win the vote. People have stopped participating in the process until now because the shrill, anti-change voices have been so off-putting, and seemed to represent the majority. We've learned they don't represent the whole community, and hopefully aldermen and potential developers will realize that, too.

HYDE PARK PROGRESS has contributed so much toward getting the word out that the dinosaurs are not in the majority. Thanks for thinking up this forum, Chicago Pop.

Unknown said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Elizabeth, and with earlier posters encouraging methods for non-NIMBY Hyde Parkers to express their ideas and opinions. As a newer resident (about 3 years), I feel greatly discouraged about the state and future of our neighborhood when reading the ridiculous Herald and hearing much of the news from the HPKCC. This community has so much potential (and so many already great features), and knowing that there are others of like mind here is a great relief. A big thanks to Chicago Pop and all other posters.

susan said...

I do shop at the Co-op fairly frequently. Not for all my shopping, and not for overpriced items. I HAVE noticed that lately I can pick up more items at a price I'm willing to pay. Also, I have never experienced the surly employees that so many Co-op haters complain about.

But I'm sure I'm not the only non-hater who voted for Prop A for Withrow's other reason. That is, I voted on the basis that the Co-op CAN'T continue, not that it SHOULDN'T.

In an ideal version of our existing world (that is, there's still no world peace, and we still have the same politicians) I would have miraculously freed the Co-op of the 47th St lease and would find myself doing more and more of my shopping in the neighborhood--at HP Produce (in a store sold to HP Produce by Bill Gerstein, who had just decided to get out of the grocery business), at the increasingly competitive but always familiar Co-op, at a Village Foods (cleaned up as it realized it needed to get its act in gear), and the new 47th Street. . . Jewel, Dominicks, Whole Foods, or Rezko/Daley/Brazier/Finney-mart?

I still hope one of you brilliant bloggers can figure out how to follow the money over on 47th St.

chicago pop said...

I still hope one of you brilliant bloggers can figure out how to follow the money over on 47th St.

I hear you -- it's on the to-do list.

chicago pop said...

I voted on the basis that the Co-op CAN'T continue, not that it SHOULDN'T.

Everyone has their reasons. And I should mention that I belong to 2 successful cooperatives and have for 15 to 20 years.

But if the can't is big enough, as I believe it is in this case, it can go a long way to pull down the "should." In this case, I think the shouldn't became pretty powerful: a retail food cooperative should not be Hyde Park's only and mainline supermarket. Industry economies of scale, competitive pricing, and razor-thin profit margins just weigh too much against a solo operation that tried to do what the Co-Op wanted to do.

There are also too many contrasting market segments in Hyde Park for this particular enterprise to satisfy them all and still satisfy its ideological purpose. And this is all entirely apart from the blunder at 47th Street. The industry began changing under the Co-Op's feet long before that boondoggle.

Cooperatives can function in some sectors, including food, but this neighborhood situation clearly isn't one of them. A niche food retailer would be a much better bet if people want to reinvest their idealism somewhere other than a mainline supermarket.

Famac said...

borneatreese - I agree with you that the Co-Op seemed improved, and I have also never experienced the horid service some have.

But Princess Diana got in that Mercedes and nothing can bring her back. There are some decisions people and organizations make that are fatal, and the 47th Street lease was one of them.

If any other landlord had control over the 55th Street location, the Co-Op's painful collapse would have been far shorter. Most retail landlords don't have an endowment to cushion losses, fyi.

Word from one of my insiders is that Marshalls may be interested in 47th Street.

Richard Gill said...

What I want to know is: when will the first book about the Co-op's rise and fall be written, and what will the title be?

Richard Gill said...

Crain's Chicago Business, Dec. 17, has an on-line article about the Co-op vote, and it may also be in the print edition. Among other things, the article mentions the competing voter campaigns and notes (perhaps with some irony), "..the co-op's own newsletter denounced the university's bailout plan."

chicago pop said...


If anyone is planning on attending tonight's community theater performance of "Death of a Cooperative," we'd love to get your critical review of the theatrics.

You can send me your review, or just post it right here!

Elizabeth Fama said...

Chicago Pop, I'm wondering if you've gone soft since V-day.

Here are two partial quotes from one of your comments above: "...a solo operation that tried to do what the Co-Op wanted to do" and "...still satisfy its ideological purpose."

You're buying into the pretense that an organization that paid no dividends but -- hooray! -- organized a Book Sale once a year still had a living, breathing, underlying ideological goal.

The cooperative aspect of the Co-Op died years and years ago. The few pitiful dividends we got didn't make up for the higher prices we paid for dozens of years. The product selection fit no particular "niche" market better than the alternatives of Peapod, Jewel, Dominick's, and Whole Foods -- in fact, it was worse. How long does an organization get to lay claim to an idealistic founding charter that it abandoned?

I'd go further to say that if it had retained any true cooperative features (and kept up with what other cooperatives were doing), it might have survived: and in the meantime it might have pushed Village Foods to fill the niche of an adequate Jewel-like store for stock goods, or it might have allowed an actual Jewel to co-exist at the 47th Street location (concentrating, like a good little cooperative, on just its 55th Street store), or any other number of scenarios.

Couldn't you say that the fact that it lost its cooperative mission over the years is what sank it?

chicago pop said...

You're buying into the pretense that an organization that paid no dividends but -- hooray! -- organized a Book Sale once a year still had a living, breathing, underlying ideological goal.

Good point. I guess my thinking was that the Co-Op's economic failure, in terms of trying to be a mainline supermarket, left it in a position from which it couldn't deliver on the ideology, even if all sorts of people still wanted it to, and even thought and hoped that it still did or might!
So yes, the ideology lived on -- and that's what we've been battling against -- even while the economics fell out from under it some time ago, even before 47th Street.

I agree: at some point the "should" ceases to be an legitimate excuse for the "can't". As you say, that alibi wore thin years ago.

But I'm not sure I think that drifting away from the Co-Operative ideology is what sank it; success would have meant recognizing market forces and adapting to them; this operation clearly didn't want to do that, many Board/members didn't even want to deal with economics, period. And at some point, it just doesn't make sense to run a business by committee. So for those two reasons, the cooperative ideology contributed to sinking this boat.

chicago pop said...

I should clarify a little: running a business by committee is dangerous, in a highly competitive environment, when you're relying on volunteer/amateurs to stay on top of the situation and make smart decisions.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I agree, C-Pop. When the market "caught up" with the Co-Op (which probably happened when companies like Jewel became so big they could buy and distribute more efficiently than mom and pop stores), it would have been a moment to re-think the strategy, and to become a niche cooperative (in fact didn't Whole Foods -- a relative youngster -- come into town and beat the Co-Op to organics?).

But by that point the Co-Op was entrenched in how it did things, and as you say, the board aimed only to keep the ship afloat as it was, not reimagine and refit it.