Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=119137
Story Retrieval Date: 6/19/2013 3:03:14 PM CST
The Dill Pickle Food Co-op’s four-year effort to open a health-food store in Logan Square will continue a little longer after it hit a hurdle Friday when police shut down a fundraising party.
Police ended the event, at the AV-aerie in Ukrainian Village, because the venue didn't have the requisite licenses as a place of public amusement and for liquor service, said Efrat Stein of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Licensing.
Dill Pickle President Billy Burdett said the co-op was allowed to keep its collected donations, but the early closure kept the event short of its $3,000 goal and will likely force the Dill Pickle team to organize more events to finish raising the $125,000 needed for the store’s opening.
Nevertheless, the co-op's members still hope to open Logan Square's only community-run grocery store sometime this spring. Its business model, which is for-profit but depends on communal ownership, may present challenges during a harsh economic climate that has consumers clipping coupons and pinching pennies.
Kathleen Duffy first envisioned the Dill Pickle store in early 2005 when she moved to Chicago and realized there was no place in Logan Square for people wanting to grow a community around their love – and consumption – of local, healthy foods.
“So I just sent out an e-mail out to everybody I knew… and 300 people e-mailed me back. So I was like, ‘Okay, I guess it’s time to do it!” Duffy said.
A year and a half passed before the co-op formed a board and developed its strategic plan because its cooperative governance structure required member input and agreement at every stage.
"The democratic process is longer, but ultimately it's better," Burdett said, "because all good things take time."
About 340 members have registered with the Dill Pickle Co-op, with each person committed to supporting the store with $250 to $500 over five years in return for benefits like a say in inventory decisions and possible member-discount days.
Membership dues are expected to contribute a third of the store’s startup fee, according to the co-op’s president, with about $40,000 to $90,000 coming through loans from "more dedicated" members. The rest will come from bank and credit union loans and fundraising events like the one canceled on Friday.
Duffy said she believes that people’s desire for healthy foods provided in a community-run market have brought them to Dill Pickle. And their support will be a crucial ingredient for the store’s survival in the midst of larger, cheaper markets like Jewel-Osco and Whole Foods Market Inc.
“It’s not the convenience factor and it’s not the choice factor,” Duffy said. “There’s no way we can compete against Jewel for the range of products that we’ll offer. This is going to be about people who are really interested in bringing healthy food options to Logan Square.”
Once the store opens, the number of new members is going to “explode,” predicts Burdett, who said he hopes Dill Pickle’s emphasis on growing a community of like-minded consumers will duplicate the success of similar endeavors in Portland, Ore., where he formerly lived.
“It isn’t just a place to get your food,” Burdett said of a neighborhood-run Portland store. “It was a real hub of the community and people went to network and make friends there.”
Enough dedicated members will help recreate that environment in Logan Square, Burdett said, and their dues will also help keep store prices down.
As for the day-to-day operations, Burdett said that a general manager and full-time employees will operate the store, while an eight-person board of directors will plan long-term goals. The business will run as a for-profit enterprise, but the community focus will continue as all members will vote on board elections and other major decisions. Members may also be eligible for annual dividends if the co-op decides to not reinvest all of its earnings back into the store.
Non-members will also be able to shop at the store, Burdett said. Although an advertising budget is planned to attract business, Burdett figured that Dill Pickle’s committed pool of members will guarantee healthy sales.
“We almost have 350 members who have invested money and can’t wait for this store to open,” he said.
Ultimately, the store’s success will depend in large part on people such as Julie Peterson, a new Dill Pickle member who said she prefers community food groups because she “doesn’t like the feeling that the grocery store is selling me things based on their interests and not on mine.”
Preeti Samraj described herself as a “big supporter of organic foods,” which will make up a majority of Dill Pickle’s inventory, but she said her future patronage will depend on the store’s prices.
“Price is definitely an issue, so it would definitely depend on the price of this new store how much I would shop there. For sure,” she said.
Local producers, meanwhile, see the Dill Pickle store as a new way to reach a specific set of customers.
Chicago-based Kameryn Beverage Inc. bottles its own all-natural brand of sodas, including flavors such as root beer, orange cream and black cherry. President and founder Ken Houbolt said he welcomes the opportunity to sell his sodas through the Dill Pickle store because it will help him reach the health-conscious consumers who make up his target audience.
Kameryn Beverage has already talked with the co-op about stocking shelves with its bottles, Houbolt said, but no plans have been finalized.
So Dill Pickle’s fundraising effort goes on, and the store’s location – across the street from the Logan Square public library branch– is already undergoing renovation. When the store finally does fling open its doors, Dill Pickle Vice President Gajus Miknaitis said, he's confident it will fill an important niche.
“There’s no natural food store like this anywhere in the Logan Square community. We’re really addressing a need and getting people in the community to step up and help us do it.”