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Mifflin St. Co-op - RIP

Please limit discussion in this area to local and state politics.

Where do you shop for food?

Willy St. Co-op
14
36%
Mifflin St. Co-op
0
No votes
Trader Joe's
3
8%
Whole Foods
0
No votes
Woodman's
14
36%
Regent St. Co-op
0
No votes
Sentry
2
5%
Cub Foods
2
5%
I'm a robot and so don't need organic sustenance
4
10%
 
Total votes : 39

Mifflin St. Co-op - RIP

Postby Genie » Wed Oct 25, 2006 1:18 am

Originator of the Mifflin St. Block Party - back before it was a glorified beer fest. When it was a celebration of Mayday and Kenny Mate of the underground newspaper "Takeover" would throw out 100 joints from the stage into the crowd.

Originator of the Guerilla Cookie.

The Mifflin St. Co-op will close:
Financial problems shut downtown grocery's doors

By Lee Sensenbrenner
Citing losses this year of nearly $60,000 as well as back taxes and other debt approaching $100,000, board members of the Mifflin Street Community Co-op say the downtown grocery, in operation since 1969, cannot remain open.
"The mistakes of the past and the changing climate of the present have become too great to overcome," Board President Matt Stoner wrote in a message to co-op members on Monday. "The board feels it is time to acknowledge this reality and let Mifflin pass into memory."

The co-op, which operates in an old brick building at 32 N. Bassett St. that has housed a grocery store since it was built in 1902, has been under financial strain for several years, and talk of shutting down is not new.

Last spring, for example, members were given the option to close the store, but instead voted to take out a loan to cover debts and "implement a new business plan" to see if the next six months could be profitable.

But instead of finding a way to become profitable, the co-op has lost another $30,000 since that vote in April, Stoner wrote, and last week the Internal Revenue Service presented the co-op with another $14,000 bill for unpaid payroll taxes.

Closing the store is the only option being given to co-op members at their Nov. 20 meeting, and Stoner wrote that "it is the only financially responsible decision available to us."

"Our situation only worsens the longer we stay open," he wrote, calling for plans to archive the co-op's historical documents and hold a goodbye party to celebrate almost 38 years.

Marked by a mural painted on its brick wall, the co-op sits in a neighborhood just west of the Capitol Square that has gradually transformed from three-flats filled with graduate students to blocks punctuated by student high-rises.

Apart from its color -- on the checkered linoleum floor, the hand-lettered signs, the bulletin boards and the produce -- the co-op was quiet this morning, with two staff members tending to a handful of customers who trickled in.

One of the staffers, 20-year-old Aaron Schneider, had just taken a paid position about three weeks ago after volunteering at the co-op for almost a year. Originally from Texas, he came to Madison after working at an organic farm in southern Oregon state that he said grew vegetables and medical marijuana. He said he is drawn to cooperatives because they "put the power back into the hands of the people."

But instead of realizing all that a grocery cooperative has to offer, he said students in the area are lured by the quick and easy.
"Students here are so concerned about convenience," he said, talking about how they can order their groceries online at a nearby store.
"It's touch-of-a-button convenience," he said. "That's what's destroying our community."

Josh Stuewer, 28, who is a full-time staffer and a member of the co-op's board, also attributed some of the co-op's difficulties to demographic changes in the neighborhood. He said that the kind of people who founded the store now more often live near the Willy Street Co-op. "It seems as though the student body has become more conservative," he said.

Although it means losing his job, Stuewer said that he agrees that there is no other choice but to close the store and sell the building, a course of action he voted for as a board member. "We can't get into a situation where our debt exceeds the value of the building," he said. He did not blame management for the financial difficulties, saying that it has been "casual, but effective."

Before he strolled the aisles of the shop this morning, regular customer Bob Hruzek got some advice from Schneider about tea and its effects on iron absorption. Hruzek said he found the co-op several years ago when he was living as a "traveler." During a stop in Madison, he wondered away from the Greyhound bus stop and found the corner grocery store. His travels, he said, began after a car crash left him briefly in a coma and permanently with brain damage. It ended his work in construction, and he took off, exploring the United States, staying in national forests and public parklands.

Over 10 years, he stayed periodically in "mountainous Tennessee, Marin County, Calif., Eugene, Ore.," among many cities, but eventually settled in Madison about a year ago. "Without question, this is a developing metropolitan area," he said. "We're right in the marrow of it.

"This is a budding metropolis. It's not going backwards, ever. You have to get to the core of the city and hold on to it," he said. "Or not."
In the co-op, he saw something that he liked.
"It's both the actual physical structure of it, and what it represents," he said. "I like, in my life, enterprises such as this."
Other co-ops

While the Mifflin Street Co-op has struggled for several years, other small groceries in the city have found some success, particularly the Williamson Street Grocery Co-operative.

Anya Firszt, general manager of the Willy Street Co-op, said she was surprised Monday when she heard the news."I thought they had a good plan to turn around their diminishing sales," she said.

Firszt said the Willy Street Co-op had loaned Mifflin Street $5,000 cash in 2002, which was repaid. The east side grocery had also been helping out more recently with some in-kind advertising and printing help.
But at some point, Firszt said, an operation needs to be self-sustaining. "Fundraising is not a means to keep a business running," she said. The Willy Street Co-op has been one of the most successful co-ops in the state, with sales up nearly 14 percent last year to $13.2 million. Membership has grown to 14,000.

Like Mifflin, though, the Regent Market Cooperative has been struggling. Although it has not yet threatened shutting its doors, it sent out a plea recently to members seeking $60,000 in contributions. That grocery at 2136 Regent St. is facing new competition with the opening of Trader Joe's at 1864 Monroe St.

"Trader Joe's is going to impact all of us," said Firszt.

The Cap-Times
Genie
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Re: Mifflin St. Co-op - RIP

Postby snoqueen » Wed Oct 25, 2006 1:51 am

Genie wrote:Originator of the Mifflin St. Block Party - back before it was a glorified beer fest. When it was a celebration of Mayday and Kenny Mate of the underground newspaper "Takeover" would throw out 100 joints from the stage into the crowd.

Originator of the Guerilla Cookie.



Ah, remember it well. Do you have any idea how long it took to ROLL those joints? We handed them out to the winners of the little carnival-style street games we staged, too. It was always the first spring day it was warm enough to get a sunburn. Happy memories.

I'm not sure if the Coop originated the Guerilla Cookie or if it was this guy who ran a weird little underground bakery that eventually ended up in the building where the Tai Chi Center is today. The origins of the cookie are murky.

The passing of the Coop is a little mini-milestone in Madison local history, but on a practical level it's probably way overdue. Food and shopping preferences have changed a lot since 1969 and the Guerilla Cookie.
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Postby Genie » Wed Oct 25, 2006 1:59 am

Here's something about those cookies:

[quote]
WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 85
Guerrilla cookies

Hereâ??s what guerrilla cookies were made of,
at least in part: Honey, eggs, vanilla, butter,
baking soda, walnuts, sunflower seeds, organic
raisins, organic hemp nuts, molasses, canola
oil, cracked oats, coconut, rolled oats, pastry
flour and much more.

The cookies were sold in Madison from a
cart on campus, and also at area co-ops, and
are remembered fondly by those who snarfed
them between classes, or made a meal out of
a guerrilla cookie and a container of yogurt.

Wrote the State Journalâ??s George
Hesselberg: â??The GC is cloaked in the sort of
fuzzy mystery that fogs recountings of virtually
everything that happened in Madison in the
1960s and 1970s. Rare was the UW-Madison
student backpack in 1969 that did not have a
pocket lined with the crumbs of a guerrilla
cookie.â?Â
Genie
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Postby Stu Levitan » Wed Oct 25, 2006 5:43 am

The bookend symbolism is just too much -- the Co-op closing just as Trader Joe opens.

One of my favorite things about the past 30 years was writing the successful Block Grant request for funds to pay for the ramp and energy efficient windows. Something very appealing about using a program that Richard Nixon started to help out the Mifflin Co-op.
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Postby Wincraft » Wed Oct 25, 2006 6:16 pm

Stu Levitan wrote:The bookend symbolism is just too much -- the Co-op closing just as Trader Joe opens.

One of my favorite things about the past 30 years was writing the successful Block Grant request for funds to pay for the ramp and energy efficient windows. Something very appealing about using a program that Richard Nixon started to help out the Mifflin Co-op.


I remember that well, you were on the county board then! Thanks Stu... I worked at Mifflin for six+ years in the early/mid 1980s and learned so much: about food politics, organics before it got corporatized, the Madison left and counterculture, collective and cooperative management, throwing a block party and um, making those magic brownies. Creating the mural was something I'm proud of working on too....

Mifflin truly helped make me the person I am today.
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Postby Bwis53 » Wed Oct 25, 2006 8:16 pm

If Mifflin St. Coop is sold, after the taxes are paid off, where does the rest of the money go to?
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Postby lysander » Wed Oct 25, 2006 10:07 pm

I just have to chime in that I think that TJ's opening has nothing to do with the Co-Op closing.

As a card-carrying Co-Op member, I don't see TJ's as a big destination. Willy St. Co-Op and Woodman's get the lion's share of my grocery cash. It's just that Mifflin, despite it's prime location, doesn't have the selection of unhealthy crap that I crave. And they're not open 24-7 like Woody's.

If the sale of the store and all that stuff leaves a positive amount of money to the Co-Op's name, I'm pretty sure that the Co-Op keeps the money and can continue doing things, like educating people about organic and maybe a Farmer's Market stand. The closing of the physical location need not be the death of the Co-Op, although I doubt that all debts can realistically be paid.

I admire what the Co-Op accomplished in it's heyday and look forward to further good things coming from the people involved.
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Postby white_rabbit » Wed Oct 25, 2006 10:43 pm

Here's another way they could survive, for a few more years at least. Sell the building, but with a rider that for the next 10 years they have the exclusive right to the lease of the property. They could sell the property at a reduced price to a buyer who see's the value of the real estate, but tie the lease rider to the length of time they have exclusive rights. There could also be a clause to to allow the co-op to buy the property back at assessed fair market value at anytime during the agreed upon leaser term rider to the sale.
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Postby Bwis53 » Thu Oct 26, 2006 7:37 am

If they really do shut down, it would be nice if any left over money (after all pay offs ) could go to Regent Coop.
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Postby Dulouz » Thu Oct 26, 2006 2:32 pm

Unless their by-laws say differently, any money left over goes to the membership. The board usually makes the decision on how to disburse it, although it could easily be a membership decision.
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Postby bmasel » Thu Oct 26, 2006 7:38 pm

still on the hardrive of my old Mac, a 32 page "People's History: A History of the Mifflin Street Community Co-op" by Michael Bodden. Written in 1992, covers the period from founding up to 1974 in great detail. (276k pdf)

No trace of this document on google. No overt copyright notice, a hint that it's property of the co-op.
Unfortunately, our author moved out of town at this point in the series. The rest of Mifflin's story remains at this point untold. Hopefully at some time in the future the rest of the tale will be researched and written.
Last edited by bmasel on Fri Oct 27, 2006 6:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby white_rabbit » Thu Oct 26, 2006 8:02 pm

bmasel wrote: Written in 1992, covers the period from founding up to 1994 in great detail.



Are these dates flipped flopped? 92<94.
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Postby Dulouz » Thu Oct 26, 2006 8:15 pm

bmasel wrote:still on the hardrive of my old Mac, a 32 page "People's History: A History of the Mifflin Street Community Co-op" by Michael Bodden. Written in 1992, covers the period from founding up to 1994 in great detail. (276k pdf)

No trace of this document on google. No overt copyright notice, a hint that it's property of the co-op.
Unfortunately, our author moved out of town at this point in the series. The rest of Mifflin's story remains at this point untold. Hopefully at some time in the future the rest of the tale will be researched and written.


I think that you should send a fair use copy out to whoever needs it. Can you post it or send it to BobArctor?
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Postby white_rabbit » Thu Oct 26, 2006 8:27 pm

Dulouz wrote:Unless their by-laws say differently, any money left over goes to the membership.


I see how it goes. Run a perfectly solvent co-op into the ground by infiltrating the board with greed opportunists who buy cheap memberships and then run the enterprise into the ground...all the while watching the value of the land the "Grey Old Hippie" sits and and rots on valuable land. And then when the opportunity is right, dissolve the enterprise and spread the fruits of such skullduggery among the remaining opportunists.
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Postby snoqueen » Thu Oct 26, 2006 9:00 pm

white_rabbit wrote:I see how it goes. Run a perfectly solvent co-op into the ground by infiltrating the board with greed opportunists who buy cheap memberships and then run the enterprise into the ground...all the while watching the value of the land ...


It's happened before -- decommissioning co ops has happened several times in the last few decades in Madison, with varying details, intents, and results. Here are three incidences I know of second-hand.

Maybe someone else reading here will fill in the details of at least one of the residential co ops between Langdon and the lakeshore, which are sitting on VERY valuable property today and were bought for a song 30+ years ago during an era when they belonged to dying fraternities that simply wanted to get rid of old buildings. "Infiltrating" the co ops more recently with greedy pseudo-co opers hoping to run the thing into the ground and suck up the profits has come close to happening several times if I understand right. Has any of these efforts succeeded before being detected?

The Yellow Jersey bike store started life as a co op. (It was then located in an old car dealership building across from Wando's, on the corner where part of the Fluno Center stands now.) Over the years, a few dedicated active members kept it running, but nobody new was joining and it became sort of a little club of old friends actually running a functional business. At some point they wanted (understandably, I think) to de-commission it as a co-op and reformulate in a different business format, and doing so became very complicated because the old bylaws, which had never been rescinded, did not contain provisions for dissolving the coop. YJ still exists today, so evidently they managed to make it happen. I don't know if it turned ugly or not in the course of the changeover.

A third instance was a house on S. Baldwin that was bought during the co op era by a group and run as a small residential co op for many years. Finally the co-op energy sort of ran out and the people living there wanted to somehow buy it (without subterfuge) from the remnant co op and use it as a conventional personal residence. From what I heard they needed to contact all the former residents (previous co op members) scattered across the entire country for decades and somehow come to terms, and were successful in doing so in a harmonious manner. Again maybe somebody else reading here has more details.
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