We’re moving! As new members of the Logan Square community, we’re talking with some of our favorite businesses about why they love their neighborhood. Follow the progress of our new mixed use commercial retail and loft apartment, Logan Certified, on our blog. We’ve renovated and refreshed Logan Certified from its humble beginnings as a food and liquor store and we have space to rent. The building had fallen into disrepair on the outside, but upon exploration, we found many salvageable elements and of course kept the “bones” of the building, a crucial component of our favoring adaptive reuse over the generally more wasteful demo/rebuild cycle. Our first featured new neighbor is Sharon Hoyer, General Manager at the Dill Pickle (incidentally one of our projects), which is expanding and moving down the street to a storefront 6x bigger than its current location on Fullerton. Don’t forget to check out our other interviews in this series with Boulevard Bikes, Bric-a-Brac and Antique to Chic.
Sharon Hoyer has been with the Dill Pickle co-op since 2007, when she decided to leave “bland desk jobs” behind forever. Unfamiliar with co-ops at the time, but strongly invested in sustainable food models, Hoyer applied to the Dill Pickle as soon as they started hiring. She quickly assumed the role of GM, where she has been integral to shaping the community, culture and ethos of the Dill Pickle, a beloved neighborhood grocery co-op in the heart of Logan Square. Now an engaged co-op advocate and expert, Hoyer chatted with us about the DP’s strong community, the significance of being a co-op, and what she loves about Logan Square.
TELL US WHAT DREW YOU TO THE DILL PICKLE INITIALLY
It started as a passion for local food production and access to it, and developed into a passion for the cooperative and economic model that co-ops present. I’ve become really interested in how co-ops keep wealth in communities: how community members and workers control them, and how they build community.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT LIVING IN LOGAN SQUARE?
It’s my favorite neighborhood that I’ve lived in. Everything I need is within walking distance, which makes it hard to leave sometimes. (Ed note: We agree). So it becomes a matter of like, three of my favorite restaurants are here, why would I go anywhere else?
I love that it’s the most engaged neighborhood I’ve ever been in. It may be a part of my job that I meet so many people from the neighborhood. I love the fact that the folks here all seem to wanna get to know each other, want to engage in their community, want to get involved in the whole regional and national politics. They are very tuned in.
HOW HAS THE DILL PICKLE SHAPED THE COMMUNITY HERE?
The fact that this is such an engaged community is the reason the Dill Pickle exists; they made this happen. I’ve talked to many people who say they moved to this neighborhood because the Dill Pickle co-op was here. And there’s a lot of enthusiasm from our owners to increase community engagement, especially as we grow. We plan to become hosts for events of our own, and we’re really looking forward to having more space to work with.
TALK ABOUT WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE DILL PICKLE
We’re at a 1,300 square foot storefront now and we’re moving to a 10,000 square foot location. The expansion will allow us to be a full service grocery store as well as have somewhere for people to enjoy hanging out. We’re really looking forward to being able to do more beyond just selling groceries, while expanding our offerings to meet more needs. Having six times the retail floor will allow us to expand the products and the pricing will be much more competitive than we’ve been able to be in the space.
HOW DOES THE LOCAL COMMUNITY AFFECT WHAT’S ON THE SHELVES?
People make requests for us to carry certain things all the time. What you see on the shelves is a big reflection of what people want. The Dill Pickle was originally founded by people who wanted to be able to get organic produce without having to go to Whole Foods. We were focused on local and organic products from the beginning: we have product selection guidelines that were written by a committee, laying out the vendors and products we wanted to prioritize. We work with a lot of the farms that you see at the Logan Square farmer’s market, and at the height of the season, you’ll see about 20 of the vendors there on the shelves here.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CO-OP?
Co-ops are started by members to meet a common need, and they’re democratically owned and governed. Our co-op is a consumer co-op: anyone who comes into the shop can join. Owners vest in equity. So they pay in a share, and then they get to vote on different things: in our case for the Board of Directors, and on the by-laws. That board is elected from amongst ownership. Right now we’re the only consumer-owned co-op in Chicago. There is one that opened about a year ago in Oak Park that’s doing quite well, called Sugar Beet. Hopefully we’ll see more pop up.
HOW DOES THE CO-OP MODEL SUPPORT SUSTAINABILITY IN THE COMMUNITY?
As far as community sustainability, corporate grocery stores tend to be extractive. They’ll pull money from a community and it will go out of state, for example. Or it will go towards a handful of shareholders who have the majority of the vote. Co-ops keep wealth in communities. Profits are redistributed amongst owners. Anything that’s not being reinvested into the business itself goes to the owners who patronize our business. Ultimately the goal isn’t focused on profitability. We’re trying to run the best store we can. Any kind of surplus goes back into the community. It’s said that for every dollar you spend at a co-op, $1.60 is generated in the local economy. We’re working with local vendors and local suppliers. We’re hiring from within the community. We offer paid time off and health insurance to full time staff. And we’re always looking for ways to create a sustainable business—both socially and environmentally.
WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVORITE PRODUCTS AT THE DILL PICKLE?
I buy all my groceries here, which sounds crazy because it’s so small. Really Raw Honey is amazing, because it has all the stuff in it. Propolis and Royal Jelly and wax. And it’s like the heartiest, punchiest honey I’ve ever had. I will actually buy huge jars of it because everybody in my house eats a lot of it. It’s also in front of my face [laughs]. Uncle Harry’s toothpaste. All their products are great. Their essential oils are great. Their anise toothpaste is amazing. Oh and Pleasant House Bread. Because it’s the best bread you could buy.
YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN LOGAN SQUARE?
I really like to get a cocktail at Best Intentions. They have the best cocktails. I love riding my bike everywhere. I like the boulevards a lot in Palmer Square park. Playing lawn games with friends on the boulevards. I’m looking forward to summer, for sure. I like music at The Whistler a lot. And, I spend a lot of time here [laughs].
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WORKING HERE?
I feel very indebted and connected to this community. And the fact that I feel the work I do is performing a valuable service to a lot of people who care about it, has made this the most meaningful job I’ve ever had.
Thanks Sharon for taking the time to chat with us! Stay tuned for our next interview in this series.