DeKALB – Duck Soup Co-op members Sunday voted to close the store, ending the natural foods market’s 40 years of service.
Co-op members voted 36 to 3 in favor of directing the Board of Directors to conduct an orderly closure of the store, 129 E. Hillcrest Drive. While no timeline for the closing was announced, Duck Soup will continue to sell its current inventory while bringing in new products, providing it doesn’t drive the store into further debt, according to Mylan Engel, president of the co-op’s Board of Directors.
Engel said this is just another example of a mom-and-pop shop being pushed out by major retailers.
“When Duck Soup Co-Op was founded 40 years ago, we served a vital need for the DeKalb and Sycamore area,” Engel said. “But over the last five years, organic and cruelty-free products are in every retailer in town.”
The members agreed for the store to push for cash-only transactions in its final days, since debit and credit cards can incur fees.
Duck Soup lost $60,000 in fiscal 2014, Engel said. For outstanding debt, the store owes $44,622 in accounts payable, with additional payments coming at the start of the month Wednesday. The store also owes $20,282 in board-approved loans, and $7,085 in credit card debt.
Traditionally, there is $75,000 to $90,000 worth of inventory when the store is fully stocked – which it’s currently not. The shelves are almost bare.
The co-op has about 10 employees, seven board members, and about 130 active paid members. Engel said the store would either have to raise $100,000 in a matter of weeks, as suggested by the state’s Food Co-Op Initiative, file Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy or carry out an orderly closure.
Only co-op members could vote on agenda items, but that didn’t deter the public from turning out. About 60 people packed the storefront during the meeting. Seats filled up quickly, so employees hauled out buckets and plastic crates.
The meeting became heated due to different opinions on what should happen to the store and its employees, leading to bickering. It was the third emergency meeting the co-op has called in the last year and a half.
“When faced with the unpleasant reality that Duck Soup might close, it’s natural to be both saddened and angry, and it’s also natural to look for someone to blame for the co-op’s current financial situation,” Engel said at the start of the meeting.
Amid quibbling, member Cynthia Nelson made a motion recommending the board close the store.
“I was looking reality in the face,” Nelson said. “Obviously we would have dreamed to do a Chapter 11 or restructuring ... but we’re not in the financial position to do that.”
Another financial hurdle involved interest-free loans provided over the last three years by former General Manager Peggy James to offset cash flow problems, which early members were not knowledgeable of beforehand, and which only appeared in documents as a donation.
Members advised the board to re-classify the loan as a note payable that could be claimed as a capital loss.
“Quite a bit of this came to light when we realized some checks had bounced and we incurred sizable bounced-check fees,” Engel said.
Donna Mattison, a member from Oregon who works two hours every Tuesday and gets a 20 percent discount at the store, did a little bit of shopping in Duck Soup before the meeting. She said she knew it was going to close before the meeting.
“I think there’s so much competition,” she said. “I just don’t see a phoenix rising.”
Christopher Gillette of Batavia stopped by Duck Soup Co-Op on Sunday, and wasn’t aware that it was facing closure.
“That’s sad – it’s been here a long time,” Gillette said. “It’s been around here since I lived here in the ‘90s.”
Though this represents the end of Duck Soup, its impact will be largely seen and felt by the local organic food movement, Engel said.
“At least, even if we’re closing,” Engel said, “we had an impact, along with other co-ops, in driving this change.”