Wednesday, October 31, 2007

North Country Co-op is closing

I'm sure most people who know what I'm talking about already know this, but it's a thing in my life I need to talk about anyways...

The co-op has been around, apparently, for 37 years, just a little less long that myself. I think it's the oldest co-op in the Twin Cities, at the very least the oldest surviving one (for a few more days)

It was the last collectively run co-op left from the early days. Though I think it's had a general manager for the last few years. A friend pointed out at one point that in a way the fact that this didn't save it was a vindication of collective management. I guess so.

I used to work at the New Riverside Cafe, down the street. Another collective that never really seemed to have it together. North Country was like a role model - they actually managed to pay themselves significantly above (like twice!) minimum wage, a long term goal for us that we never reached while I was there...

I'm not sure what all happened. A forced move in about 2000 certainly didn't help things. North Country was maybe the only place that might have been able to pull off the tiny-store-with-wood-floors-and-wood-bins thing long term, but they lost the store and had to grow or die, for sort of unusual reasons.

I'm much more sad than I'd be if any of the other co-ops closed, though Hampden Park would be close, and none of the others seem to be in danger of it.

North Country, for a long time, retained so many of the old hippie co-op values, I guess. The co-op itself would participate in boycotts if they found the issue important enough, and put an emphasis on community building, education, and so one, even when it didn't help them market anything (take note, idealism can make life hard, damn) - They were one of the few co-ops left with a working member program (now hampden park will be the only one) - they're not very efficient, but such an important part of creating community. Oh well, strike one for efficiency I guess.

I guess I'm mourning, more than I expected.


Jeanne said...

I was surprised more than sad to hear that North Country was closing.

I don't have much experience with coops but I can't help but wonder if what's dead is the hippie idea that everyone is equal and everyone should do everything. And for me it's not about efficiency, it's about gifts and tendencies.

I was a member of Hampden Park when I first moved to Minnesota, mostly because I lived really close to there for a summer. And I can say right now that I hate cutting cheese and restocking nuts (though I didn't mind sweeping and wiping). My gifts are in the project management realm and my guess is that my gifts wouldn't be welcome in that sort of coop. Again, I'm speculating, so I might be wrong about this, but my limited experience of old hippies is this rigid egalitarian thing.

I'm interested in cooperative businesses like The Hub because by their very nature, not everyone can do everything. Some have bike mechanic expertise, some have bike construction expertise, and some prefer to work the floor selling bikes & product, answering phones, etc. I can see myself fitting into that model of business.

You can still pay everyone the same and give everyone the same amount of power in the organization. But the work gets divided up by skill and interest (with a tender and careful eye to make sure management always spends some time actually doing stuff).

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Interesting stuff, Jeanne

I think that's a constant struggle for coops, and all those idealistic starry eyed dreamers like me.

I'm very much in favor of egalitarianism, but I do think that includes emphasizing different gifts.

I never worked as a cook at the Riv, it was not my forte. I did financial stuff and customer service, which are still the things I"m better at.

I was a member of the finanial "team" - but we did have a financial manager (who wasnt' me) - he was allowed to work less in the kitchen than everyone else, but still had to do at least a shift a week or something (I do believe it's important to actually know the business you're working in, firsthand - apparently so does starbucks, I heard once that everyone who works there, no matter how corporate, has to make lattes for a week, I wonder if that's still true)\

It's an interesting vantage point to look at class stuff - if we pay everyone the same, what's the difference between doing dishes and doing finance or project management? For most of us there is still a difference, which I find troubling on lots of levels.

I don't know if the hub is doing that better than collectives in the past. I think it's key to realize that you don't put surly people on the front line, or mathematically inept people in bookkeeping. We've confused that with not *valuing* everyone the same, which is unfortunate.

I don't know if your project management skills would have been welcomes at North Country. They probably could have used them, but would they have been able to see that? maybe, maybe not.

I know I couldn't stand general work at Hampden Park either (and I HATE sweeping and wiping!). I liked cashiering, but that's something you have to "work up to" - which I guess is fair.

I was completely unsurprised that NCC closed. It's been coming for over a decade. makes me sad, but not surprising.

doug sembla said...

i was just checking out the news on the net and am sorry to all that we couldn't get it all figured out. the staff and board tried a lot of things, but in the end we couldn't get things back together like in the glory days (anything before about 10 years ago.)

the comments above are accurate in my opinion. there are flaws in many volunteer systems, and ours was no exception, but in the end the comment that our changing tactics didn't save us is correct. in the end, the staff did unionize to try to recapture the spirit of the collective days, but had we not strayed from the collective model, we might not have failed. it's hard to say.

if you wanted to discuss the issues, i'm open to answering questions, as are the other directors.

doug sembla,
board member,
former staff member

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Thanks, Doug, for checking in! It's a great loss the community, but probably no one thing would have turned it around, thanks for putting your heart into it!