We invite opinions, suggestions, and advice at this time. We are in a holding pattern with regard to the space, but have spoken with other companies about other spaces. Should we pursue another option? Maybe doing so would not be giving up so much as letting go of a fantasy. But SWEETWORK PROJECT is, if nothing else, patient and prone to dreaming!
Thus concluded our last update, dear friends, and let us not even check the date on that; suffice it to say that our patience has been tested and our dreams have become cloudy. We have even caught ourselves feeling depressed, despondent, defeated. Since our last update we have navigated the world of commercial real estate in a rapidly gentrifying NYC neighborhood. We will not bore/traumatize you with the details; it's not nice.
OK, a few details: as we reported before, the building in which we were leasing the space went into receivership, which we understand to mean, basically, that a bank took temporary control of their finances due to delinquency. We do not think it is a coincidence that this happened soon after a judge issued a $2.5M settlement against the company in a class action lawsuit filed by some of their tenants. We will never know if there is a connection, but on the day that we saw that news we were negotiating the lease and it seemed like everything would be fine. Dear friends we promised no gory details but we have to cry to you: our wonderful lawyer was trying to confirm with the building's agent, following weeks of back and forth (a normal part of the process), that we had only the tiniest changes to the draft lease, but that we were going to sign it now. This is when he informed us that the space was "off the market." He explained to our lawyer all about the receivership, and how it would most likely be temporary, and then we could sign the lease. *SIGH*
Months of waiting followed, punctuated by phone discussions with the new management company, Blue Star Properties. At first they seemed amenable, but soon it became clear that we were being frozen out; we even made two surprise visits to their midtown Manhattan offices to demonstrate our seriousness; all to no avail. Soon they would not return our calls. Again, we will never know why.
All the while we searched for another space in the neighborhood. Our criteria greatly limited us; the space has to be affordable, first of all. It must be the right size, and possess the right infrastructural capabilities (for cooking, cold storage, electricity use, etc.). It must be in a location near a residential area. And because of our financial situation, the owners must be willing to take a little bit of a risk.
Friends, you can imagine how this narrows our options. We have pursued many dead ends; a few promising places; we went through the application process with two locations (besides our initial site). In a word, it's about the money: if we had $100K in the bank we would have BEEN opened. But our faith in ourselves (and in you, our supporters) does not matter in the "bottom line" way. Our last, best option for a site ended recently in an epic meeting with the owners, and included a detailed discussion of how great it would be to open there; the next day we were rejected, dare we say hesitantly― they seemed to wish we had enough money.
We knew that this project, from a financial standpoint, was risky to say the least. We see, in retrospect, that it was crazy to proceed with no Plan B. We have many regrets, and we cannot do anything but apologize to our supporters for our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our occasional stupidity. But we felt it was necessary to push through our fear in pursuit of the dream.
Perhaps you remember THE DREAM: to open a self-sustaining worker-owned grocery store in West Harlem which would both serve the community and provide radical access for workers, who would earn ownership. A radical experiment towards access. And also an awesome place to visit with healthy food, a water fountain, and neighbors behind the counter.. wow EVEN AS WE SAY IT RIGHT NOW we know it's THE BOMB IDEA. Let us just say that
regardless of what happens next
we INTEND TO OPEN THIS STORE even if it is with our dying breath. This plan is no less necessary now than it was when we began.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
Here are some options:
1. As we see it, we have no choice but to offer refunds to whomever wants one.
We cannot blame any reasonable person for wanting their money back. To all of our supporters who wish to receive a refund, we can only say thank you and ask that you continue to watch us as we continue to plan. IF YOU WOULD LIKE A REFUND send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "REFUND" in the subject line. Include your mailing address in the message and we will mail a full refund check to you within 24 hours of receipt of the email.
2. We could try to do more fundraising.
Frankly we are not sure how to do that. After this Kickstarter fundraiser we applied for 9 grants, for all of which we were rejected, mainly, when any reason was given, because of our for-profit model. We could undoubtedly open the store at the most recent location we checked out if we only had more money. We got along well with the owners, and they liked our idea from a business standpoint (the only standpoint which we like to share with agents and owners). After several discussions, store visits, a certified accountant's statement regarding our finances, and three meetings, they asked if we would be willing to give an outlandishly large six-month deposit, in addition to first and last months' rent.
In an ironic twist, when we agreed, they declared that giving a six month deposit would leave us in too tentative a financial situation to allow them to feel comfortable leasing to us. How to describe the frustration...?
3. We could wait and see how much cash we have left after refunds and plan from there― collectively!
We have had several crazy ideas (buy land in New Jersey or upstate NY and farm it to grow ingredients for another start-up's product, for instance) but would be happy to hear any and all ideas from our supporters. Whatever the case, some consensus would have to be established, and so any steps would be subject to the approval of all. Obviously we are only interested in a project that creates real access points to self-sufficiency for participants.
Basically friends, what happens next will depend on... what happens next. We hope for clarity and a way forward. All of our problems could instantly be solved with more cash, so if anyone has the inclination and/or the means to link us to someone who might grant us a big loan, we could open the store on Amsterdam Avenue. It sounds so simple, and as far as money goes, it really is that simple.
Again, we STILL do not intend to fail in this epic endeavor. And again WE THANK YOU, all of our supporters, even those for whom this is the end. We will never be able to repay the faith you had in this idea, nor the strength we gathered from OUR COLLECTIVE DESIRE to see this come to fruition.
We look forward to hearing from you.