LOGAN SQUARE — Dill Pickle Food Co-op is back from the brink of permanently shutting down, thanks to a successful fundraiser and tax breaks bringing $600,000 to the store.
But the Logan Square co-op still is on shaky financial footing and store leaders must boost sales to keep the store going long-term, general manager I’Talia McCarthy said.
Time was running out for the Dill Pickle just a few weeks ago. At the time, McCarthy said the store was $5.6 million in debt with only two to three weeks of cash remaining.
Store leaders recently secured about $500,000 in 2021 Employee Retention Credit, a tax break under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
That money won’t be distributed for two to six months but will go a long way in saving the store from closure, McCarthy said.
The Dill Pickle crew also launched a crowdfunding campaign in July — an “SOS,” as McCarthy put it — raising its goal of $100,000 Sunday.
That money — a mix of owner loans, equity and donations — will cover short-term costs, McCarthy said. Before the fundraiser, store leaders were struggling to pay their employees and vendors, even after laying off 11 workers.
“I’m super proud of our team and super grateful for the community and our owners for stepping up to help us bridge the gap until we get the funding we need,” McCarthy said. “This is going to be extremely helpful in us being able to pay payroll and get caught up with outstanding invoices.”
Dill Pickle’s issues started in 2017 when previous leadership failed to raise enough money to move from its tiny location on Fullerton Avenue to its much larger location at 2746 N. Milwaukee Ave. McCarthy said they were short around $150,000. The co-op also took a big hit when a former interim general manager and employee stole $170,000 in 2019.
Meanwhile, Dill Pickle has failed to hit sales projections for years, McCarthy previously said. While the store saw a spike in sales in the early days of the pandemic, store leaders were also spending a lot of money on protective gear and other precautions to keep employees and customers safe, McCarthy said. In the middle of the chaos, the city temporarily shut down the store after it failed a health inspection.
Also during the pandemic, the workers’ union has ramped up criticisms of store management, alleging unfair treatment. The workers went on strike last month over unfair labor practice complaints, among other issues.
Sales plummeted as restaurants and bars reopened, McCarthy said. The union fight has hurt the already-struggling store’s reputation, leading to another dip in sales, she said.
Union members see the situation differently. They say management is refusing to address legitimate labor disputes. While the clashes are damaging the co-op’s reputation, they could “easily” be resolved, union members said.
The two sides are continuing to bargain.
As the store’s financial situation improves, McCarthy said she and other store leaders have “a lot of work to do — and a lot of that work is really repairing that relationship with the union.”
“We had a meeting last Thursday where we bargained over a couple of things, talked to them about coming to an agreement over unfair labor practice charges. We’re hoping to settle those issues and move forward,” she said.
Jessico Dickerson, a member of the union, agreed, saying they are waiting for management to settle unfair labor practice complaints, which were filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Dickerson said they’re “relieved” the store is doing better financially, but issues persist.
“I do believe bargaining sessions are a lot more fluid and easier, there’s a lot less tension,” they said. “But it still feels like they are trying to use the contract in a way that benefits them as opposed to having it benefit the workers.”
As for the store’s future, McCarthy said she’s “hopeful” the store will pull through, but she can’t declare the financial battle won just yet. Just because the store is getting an influx of cash doesn’t mean it won’t be forced to close in the future. The store still needs more shoppers and owners to stay open down the road, she said.
McCarthy said they’re ramping up marketing efforts in the coming months to reach more shoppers and continually encouraging neighbors to become owners of the co-op, which has called Logan Square home since 2009.
Store leaders also are hoping for more governmental support. They applied for 2020 Employee Retention Credit that would amount to at least $240,000, but have not yet been awarded that funding, McCarthy added. They also are seeking $500,000 loan through the Small Business Administration, and are waiting to hear if they’ve been approved, McCarthy said.
“We would love to see more owners and community engagement in our organization,” she said. “We are a co-op and we are democratically-controlled, and I think that’s a really awesome, unique thing about our store.”
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