Democratically owned by you, the customer.
A message for our owners from Sharon Hoyer, General Manager.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve had some great in-depth conversations with friends and co-op owners about the Dill Pickle expansion project, usually prompted by someone I’ve run into asking how things are going at work, and how the expansion is coming along. Through a combination of genuine interest and my tendency to overshare, that unassuming question opens up lengthy conversations about farming practices and distribution, the price of food, fair wages, and how a democratically governed business differs from your Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Mariano’s. And, because my mind (along with all the Dill Pickle leadership) is on raising the capital we need to get this new store open, these conversations have increasingly centered around what we mean when we talk about equity, why owner loans are important and, more often than not, me reminding the person I’m talking to at some point in the conversation that we’re seeking investment, not donations, not gifts. Money you get back. With interest.
This happens so often I get the feeling that the difference between giving the Dill Pickle money and lending the Dill Pickle money is, for quite a few folks, a little blurry. This is a really important distinction, and to get at the heart, of it I’m sorry to say that I have to spend a little time talking about tax designations, but I promise to keep it super short. A lot of folks think of co-ops as non-profits. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for co-ops…in our economy organizations tend to fall into two categories: for-profit and non-profit. (And if I have to choose between the two in terms of popular imagination, I’d much rather the Dill Pickle be associated with organizations driven by their missions instead their profits because, well, we are). But the fact is that co-ops are incorporated, in the state of Illinois at least, as for-profit entities…though they don’t neatly fit into either category. Profitability is not the raison d’être of co-ops, but they are economically self-sustaining businesses. They don’t survive on donations, grants or gifts. They succeed and fail as other business do: by the value of the service they provide to their customers and owners, and by how well they operate. And they are designed to operate justly and transparently in what is an a pretty darn unjust, obfuscated economic system.
Our capital campaign is the place where confusion between co-ops and non-profits is a bit of a problem. Few of us are accustomed to getting personal calls asking us to make financial investments in community businesses. The mental framework for it just isn’t there. However we’re all used to being asked for donations from non-profits. NPR, your alma mater, every theater company you’ve bought a ticket from, they all ask for cash gifts via phone, mail, email, social media, crowdfunding and carrier pigeon. And some of them are pretty good at it; my two favorite podcasts get regular cash donations from me and will continue to do so as long as they keep putting out amazing radio…and periodically asking for my support with the craft of master storytellers. That model of financial support is familiar and comfortable: I send you a few bucks a month, you keep entertaining and informing me. Done.
So how is the co-op different? It comes down to ownership, and ownership is equity. I don’t own Snap Judgement. I don’t vote for their board or bylaws. I don’t technically have a stake in the game, outside of my personal hope that Glynn Washington continues to turn out mind-blowing stories on a weekly basis. But the co-op is different. It’s owned by you. And me. And 1,850 other people. An owner of the co-op benefits from its services, shares in its profits and is responsible for its success. The co-op is self-reliant, with the “self” being the community owners. It is not a charity.
Which brings me back to financial investment, another thing most of us are not used to doing in any kind of direct or active way. Sure, some of the more fortunate amongst us may have retirement plans or investments where we put money in a fund and keep an eye on our returns. Where those dollars go and how they multiply is pretty much invisible, and in many cases we’d probably rather not know what shenanigans are involved in our four or six percent return (or loss). If you invest in the co-op—again, invest…money back, with interest—here’s what will happen with your dollars while they appreciate for you:
• About 30 new jobs for folks in our neighborhood.
• A starting wage at least $1.50/hr higher than the current Dill Pickle entry-level wage.
• Advancement for many of our current staff into leadership positions with better pay.
• Three times the purchasing from local farms and vendors.
• Better prices thanks to larger purchasing power.
• More product variety and availability.
• Deli foods—salad bar, hot bar—stocked with responsibly sourced, locally produced food.
• A community room and seating.
• Fresh meat, beer and wine, wider aisles, a little off-street parking, more bike parking, better proximity to the CTA.
Your money can make this happen. And then you get it back, with more. None of this can happen without Dill Pickle owners making this investment. Yes, we have an institutional loan, but we need to prove that our owners want to see the above things happen in their community and are willing to put skin in the game. To invest. And benefit.
Not everyone can afford the $1,000 loan minimum, and owner equity is an investment that helps the Dill Pickle grow as well. Equity is money you pay in as an owner; there’s no interest, but it’s yours and can be returned to you at any time, and there’s no minimum equity payment after your initial $50. Any owner may vest up to $500 total. Equity is how we got open and how we keep improving our store through the good times and the rough times.
So there it is. Your co-op needs your investment to grow and thrive. There’s several of ways to do this according to your ability and they’re easy. As easy as donating to a charity you care about. You build a community grocery store and then you get your money back. And we can’t do it without you, our owners, our community.
A lot more than coolers and shelving go into building a food co-op; information infrastructure is just as important to running a successful store. The technology in our current store consists of two register lanes, one desktop computer, and a handful of laptops and tablets set on any available horizontal surface we can find. The Milwaukee location will need a system of networked workstations, data lines, phones (with extensions! Yippee!), an honest-to-goodness sound/intercom system and the communications and financial systems to go with it. We're also upgrading to a point of sale system suited to higher sales and capable of more detailed reporting. And, thanks to our support contract with the National Co-op Grocers, we just received an assessment of our current IT and finance systems and detailed plans to implement in our new store. We're so excited to put these in action, improving the way we communicate with each other, our vendors and our customers!
This summer is about people power. Together we've raised $550,000 to build a more sustainable store-- offering more good food at lower prices with seating, event space and parking. We've secured a site, completed structural work and schematic design, and entered the permitting process. We're on track to open the doors at 2746 N Milwaukee in early 2017. But we haven’t yet secured funding to begin construction.
To move forward, we need an additional $360k in community capital by August 31. The future of our cooperative enterprise will unfold over the next 8 weeks. Here's how you can help us succeed:
Owner Loan Campaign: $1 Million by May 15!
Springtime is the season of new growth-- a beautiful time to be building our new grocery store at 2746 North Milwaukee! Our General Manager and her team are working hard to conceptually mold 10,000 square feet of raw space into expanded departments, a deli & beverage bar, a multipurpose room, and auto/bike parking to meet our community's needs. Now is your chance to invest directly in our capacity to increase access to sustainable, fair food-- and to support the local folks producing it!
This Spring Owner Loan Campaign is an important opportunity to demonstrate community commitment to our co-op's future. Reaching our $1 million goal through $600k in new owner loans this spring will be a strong show of confidence to our partners at Shared Capital Cooperative and the Chicago Community Loan Fund, who'll help us meet the total project budget. Here's our path forward:
Project 2746 is a weekly event series building cooperative community in the Dill Pickle’s future home on Thursdays from 6-7:30pm. Come check out the space and stay to see what we're up to:
4/7: Invest in Your Values: a conversation on alternatives to traditional market investments with the Center for Changing Lives
3/31: Brews, 'Booch & the Board: swing by to chat with co-op directors about expansion plans, sample some locally brewed bevs, and see your owner loans at work! We've got an updated floor plan to share!
3/21: A MUSICAL NIGHT w/ THE MAGICAL BEASTS: Ethan Pikas, pedal steel & banjo // Sharon Hoyer, vocals // Cara Sawyer, horn & vocals // Nathan Paulus, guitar & tunes // John Herbst, uke & banjo // Josh Miller, bass.
3/17: ART IN THE NEW SPACE! Draw, paint, sketch, and create. We provide the art supplies and snacks, you provide the talent!
3/10: GROW WITH US! Learn 'Soil Truthing' with Nance Klehm of The Ground Rules (bring a soil sample from your garden!) // Seed-starting with Lora Lode of Monticello Community Garden & Neighbor-Space // 'Bee Informed’ with Michael Thompson of Chicago Honey Co-op!/
2/25: HAPPY HOUR w/ Begyle Brewing!
Help our co-op grow! Learn more about our Owner Loan Campaign.