More on Mifflin St. . .

The citizenry have started to weigh in, or at least those who post to bulletin boards. The Daily Page has one thread in its Town Vibe section and one in the local politics section.

Cynicism aside, was it time for Mifflin St to go the “great free range compost pile in the sky”?

Probably the worst part of becoming part of the local legend is the public post-mortem upon one’s demise. The Capital Times, which purports to be Dane Country’s “progressive” newspaper (whatever that means) felt the need to profile a random shopper of the cooperative for its story. The shopper is a vagabond who suffered a brain injury and travels the nation living in various parks. Nice image–just a bunch of hippies and crazy homeless people. . . .

I should put in a disclaimer here that I know some of the folks managing right now and certainly don’t want any of my comments from the sideline to in any way suggest that things could have been different. I have a great amount of respect for the folks that I know there. They started out in a tough spot and as I mentioned in some other topics, the presence of luck is an important factor to success.

Part of me wants to join the people and comment on how Mifflin could have made it, but I don’t know how valuable that sort of hand-wringing really is. It may well be that the time had come to move on. To many, Willy St. Co-op lost its soul as a cooperative when it allowed meat to be sold there. It lost it again when it moved across the street and tripled its membership. The International Cooperative Alliance defines cooperatives an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. For whatever it is worth, if the membership of Mifflin St decide to hang it up, no one can say that they ever strayed from their original purpose. That is worth something.

The real lesson to be taken away from this, to me at least, is the importance of planning, reporting, and communicating. Looking to the future to see the obstacles, looking at the past to see progress and areas to improve, and having an open dialogue that is based on true equality to ensure that all the information is presented are the keys to succeeding. Being on the outside, I can only guess on how well Mifflin accomplished these three processes, but I do know that all organizations have a tendency to group think. The smaller and more intimate the group, the more likely that one individual, however well meaning, can end up becoming the decision maker. People get comfortable with each other and assume that the question asked is the question answered. Although I can become quite vexed at the curmudgeons, I am always glad to have them speak up just to keep me on my toes.

Hopefully, some good may come out of the Mifflin experience–at this point it certainly seems that a grocery store at that location is unlikely; hopefully, the members of the cooperative who shop at Willy St, will try to make Mifflin their co-op of choice for the last month or so to ease the landing.

An interesting question in the light of Good Vibrations, Burley Bikes, and Mifflin comes to mind: When does a co-op get lost? All three recently failed with different outcomes: esop, single owner, closing. All three events didn’t just happen but were part of a long process begining years prior with unseen endings. How do current co-opers create a crystal ball for their co-op?

*I use the term failure here in a non-judgemental way. It is just to recognize that all three will cease being cooperatives.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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