Even without the benefit of a physical storefront for the first time in its 75-year history, longtime neighborhood grocer the Hyde Park Co-op is taking nominations for its upcoming board election in May. Although the cooperative accepted a University buyout in December and will be replaced by a Treasure Island within weeks, the board will continue to settle the remaining debts involved with the store’s closure and hopes to continue on as a presence in the neighborhood.
The Co-op board consists of nine rotating members each of whom serves a three-year term. Six members will return to their positions this year, and three seats are up for election. Two alternate members, who vote in the absence of a Board member, will serve for single-year terms, although they do not automatically assume vacant positions. The top three nominees will become regular members of the board, and the next two will be alternates.
“In the past it has been very difficult to achieve the necessary number of candidates,” said current president of the board Jim Poeuymirou. “People are so busy in their personal and professional lives that getting them to volunteer for even good causes is a very difficult thing to do. Running for office for a financially bankrupt organization is itself a difficult thing to do.”
Yet some expect interest in board positions to be high this year, especially on the heels of the closely-fought decision to close the store.
“I hear that it has been difficult to find people to run in the past, but this year I feel as though it will not be, because I think there are a vast number of people who were against the closing of the Co-op and people want to have a cooperative,” said Jay Mulberry, head of the nominating committee. “I feel as though there are quite a few people who would be willing to run.”
The Co-op is currently reshuffling its finances in the wake of the financial crisis that prompted the supermarket to shut down.
“We are gathering names of interested parties who want to preserve the legacy and integrity of the organization as we move into the following chapter to liquidate all assets and pay off all creditors, hopefully in full,” Poeuymirou said.
Co-op representatives say they anticipate logistical changes in this year’s election. In previous years the Co-op had typically mailed out candidate statements and ballots through the organization’s newsletter, The Evergreen. However, The Evergreen ceased publication after the dissolution of the grocery store, and no funds exist to distribute ballots. All voting information will be available through the website or the Hyde Park Herald. The Co-op is considering two methods of voting: either ballots will be made available to individuals at a convenient location such as the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, or a large meeting will be held for the candidates’ speeches and the subsequent voting.
Boasting 23,000 members, the Co-op has typically faced problems organizing a cohesive voting program. A high turnover rate in the community makes tracking members a difficult task, as undergraduate and graduate students leave and professors move to other institutions.
Still, many Hyde Parkers are reluctant to give up on the Co-op entirely, and especially bemoan the loss of community events such as the annual book fair hosted by the store. Nevertheless, Poeuymirou cautioned those who hope for the cooperative to be a long-term player in neighborhood events, and sought to quell some calls for the opening of a new store.
“If the liquidation of assets results in a negative, the viability of the organization is incredibly limited because any successor inherits that financial burden,” he said. “If sufficient [numbers of] people want to create another Co-op or another organization, they would need to do so under a new name so they could have a fresh start.”
Poeuymirou still believes that a Co-op without the burdens of the past could flourish in the area.
“There is reason to believe a cooperative can exist in Hyde Park,” he added. “It should not become a mainstream grocer; it should keep to its principles, providing an educational environment, fair trade, and free trade.”