Red Tape around Treasure Island: Why the old Hyde Park Co-op’s space is still vacant

Treasure Island Delay by Ellis Calvin

Hyde Park is about to enter its third month without a fully stocked supermarket, and its seventh week of what was originally expected to be a fortnight with no supermarket open at all. This is enough to make one wonder how the University could have promised that by shutting down the Co-Op Market and forgiving its debt, the University could ensure that the neighborhood would be without a grocery store for no more than two weeks.

The University’s Office of Community Affairs–currently in transition after announcing the departure of Vice President Hank Webber–places no blame on Treasure Island management for the store’s delayed opening. In the Office’s view, the Co-Op and the city government are largely responsible for the delays, but it does seem that the Office’s unreasonable expectations played a role as well. According to Associate Vice President and Director Susan Campbell, Treasure Island has “been working to get it ready, they had to clean the store and they’ve submitted all of their paperwork to the city, so they’re just waiting to receive their license for occupancy, and it should be pretty soon.”

The Co-Op, which hadn’t been fully stocked since shortly after New Year’s Day, occupied the space until the end of January and kept selling what non-perishables they had left until January 20. They had planned to stay open until January 28–a week longer than they actually did.

According to Campbell, the original promise had been that the new grocer would open “within two weeks of the time that the Co-Op vacated the site.” Because of the Co-Op’s unexpectedly early closure, Treasure Island couldn’t move in right away. Even under the University’s expected timeframe, the store would have been closed for three weeks; one for the Co-Op to leave and two for Treasure Island to prepare the store.

Unfortunately, the grocer’s move-in is already pushing five weeks, and they have still not announced a firm opening date. They cleaned and prepared the store as soon as they had control of the space at the start of the month, and brought in inspectors to start the permit process. This put the fate of the store in the hands of the city, which has yet to grant the necessary permits, and hasn’t made any statements to the University about when it might do so.

According to Campbell, “They can’t even stock the shelves until they get that paperwork,” so even once these permits are granted, Treasure Island will not open right away.

When it does open, it might be too optimistic to expect all of the store’s departments–including a sushi bar, a meat aging room and a café with an ice cream counter–to be ready right away. In a statement published online by the Chicago Chronicle, Webber wrote that after it opens, Treasure Island “plans to make major renovations to both the interior and exterior of the store, while maintaining operations throughout the remodeling.”

The poor condition in which the Co-Op left its former 53rd Street branch was an obstacle for the smaller Hyde Park Produce when it replaced the Co-Op in that space last month. According to Campbell, there have been no major problems of this type with the Co-Op’s flagship store: “Any venture that would come in would need to clean and then have to go through inspections with the city health department.”

Where the two-week estimate came from in the first place, though, is unclear. Before the Co-Op had even shut its doors, the University had acknowledged that it may have been overly ambitious: Hank Webber wrote in the mid-January Chronicle statement that “Treasure Island has set a goal of opening the new store before the end of February,” a month after the Co-Op’s expected closure.