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And now for something completely different. The thing you've been wishing for. A worker-owned organic grocery store in Harlem.
Created by

Gregory Allen

417 backers pledged $24,695 to help bring this project to life.

Recent updates

THE FATE OF SWEETWORK PROJECT?!

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 sweetworkproject@gmail.com 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.

Sincerely, 

Sweetwork Project

SLOW + STEADY

It's been too long since we updated everyone;  and let's be real, it's because we're hoping to have dramatic news.  Alas, that's not what's happening right now.  

Just to be clear:  we are 100% on the way to realizing this project.  And regardless of where the store opens, the store will open.  Perhaps it's a romantic commitment to the corner of 128th and St. Nicholas Terrace;  perhaps it's for not having found so perfect a location as that one.  Regardless, we have chosen to go long on that space, maintaining contact with the company through an incomprehensible transition of ownership.  The current manager of the building is Blue Star Properties, and they say they want to continue negotiating the lease with us... if we can wait for the legal work to be done.  They have been saying that, actually, since they took over in January/Feb.  We engaged in discussions with them about this transition, and decided to wait it out.  

Well, the process is taking SLOW + STEADY to a new level.  We are trying to tell ourselves that this is institutional time, meaning that the time scale for a long-term project such as this is longer than, say, the time scale for painting a wall.  (One would not let months of planning and waiting go by when painting a wall, or wait for one hardware store to re-stock the masking tape the painter prefers.  But these are relatively minor decisions, and the elements of a successful painting project may be obtained at another store.  Not so with the location of a business operating under a 10-year lease!)

We are updating at this time because there seems to be some movement in this process, and we didn't want anyone to forget about us.  And of course we wanted to reassure everyone that even though we are developing an ulcer about it, everything is going to be fine.  We have a lot going for us:  time is on our side!  We have not spent a dime of cash, except $1500 on a lawyer to help us through this lease.  (We were lucky enough to find a real estate specialist around the corner from the store:  Tyreta Foster of Foster, Lynch, and Thomas.  We would highly recommend this firm if anyone needs a lawyer in Harlem who knows about leases!  And we are extremely happy to keep this project local.)

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!  

XOXOSWTRKPRJCT

THNKSGVNG @SWTWRKPRJCT

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SWEETWORK PROJECT: WHAT'S GOING ON IN SEPT?

www.sweetworkproject.com

Hi everyone, we hope the fall is finding you healthy and happy.  We just wanted to update everyone about some things we have in the works.  

For those of you who have prizes coming to you, we'll be sending out surveys asking for pertinent information (mailing addresses, photos of your pets, etc.) later today.  Once more, we'd like to thank Isa Chandra, Aubin Pictures, Hot Chip and Le Tigre, and Johanna Fateman for their generous prize donations, which collectively account for over $6,000 of this campaign's funding!!

Otherwise, there are two major things happening:  1. We are now officially negotiating a lease for the site we wish to rent.  We hope to finalize within the month, but let's not jinx it by saying so.  Oops!  2.  We have applied for a major grant from a program whose mission is practically identical to ours, and the process seems to be going well.  We'll keep everyone informed about this, but we're not even going to say ANYTHING to jinx this, because it's potentially too major.  In fact we probably don't even have a chance, so never mind. 

In media news: we have passed into some other category now, as evidenced by this article, http://bit.ly/oyz2q2, which refers to us casually as just another model to be considered.  Thank you Frugivore!!

And finally, a note to all:  we can't overstate the impact that you, as backers of this project, have had on the progress we've made;  literally, the 417 of you have launched this store.  No matter how big we get or successful we become, SWEETWORK PROJECT will always have been born here, on your living room floor— and you were the doula!  Messy but beautiful.  Sorry, we're getting carried away.

XOXOSWEETWORKPROJECT

www.facebook.com/sweetworkproject

www.twitter.com/SWTWRKPRJCT


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THE BEGINNING

We'd just like to say thank you to everyone for this amazing experience.  We've raised $24,695. We really can't express our gratitude for this, or the feeling that comes from seeing so many people do something so powerful together.  

Too many individuals and institutions made this possible to name them all, so we'll leave this with a general thank you, and mention again that we encourage those who supported to continue this journey with us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sweetworkproject), YouTube (www.youtube.com/sweetworkproject), and Twitter (www.twitter.com/SWTWRKPRJCT).

As soon as we have a date for the opening party you'll be the first to know!

KEEP IN TOUCH

XOXOSWEETWORKPROJECT  08/20/2011 9:37AM

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