On Monday, Aug. 29, Moo & Oink, a Chicago grocery store chain and meat wholesaler, will be on the auction block as the financially troubled company’s assets -down to the store’s shelving – are sold off to the highest bidder.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Aug. 18 that according to a legal notice the auction will take place at the law office of Belongia, Shapiro & Franklin, 20 S. Clark. The Austin Weekly attempted to confirm the information, but calls to the law office were not returned.
The future of the iconic fixture depends on who purchases the 30-year-old retail meat company, says an Oak Park commercial real estate broker.
There’s two ways the auction can play out, according to David King, president of David King Real Estate of Oak Park. Moo & Oink can be bought by individuals interested in continuing operating it as a grocery store, or the chain can be auctioned off to bidders who believe selling off inventory, including countertops, food, meat processing equipment and freezers are worth more separately than operating it as a store.
“Those are going to be the two bookends on who would be bidding on it,” he said. “For the community of Austin, you would be hopeful that another grocery store operator or someone who wants to get into that business … would continue to operate that store.”
King added the Moo & Oink three Chicago stores could also be auctioned off separately.
“It’s the auctioneer’s job to get the most amount of money that they can. That money is going to pay the creditors,” he said.
It was an Aug. 2 letter to creditors that left the fate of Moo & Oink in doubt. The letter stated the company was seeking a buyer. If one could not be found, then it would be liquidated.
The retail meat store, which dates back more than 150 years to Calumet Meats and is known for its zany commercials, has been hemorrhaging money. In 2009, Moo & Oink lost $1 million and an additional $1.7 million in 2010. Through June 2011, the company lost an additional $713,000, according to the letter.
The letter by Steven Nerger, of Silverman Consulting, cited declining sales and a sagging economy for the company’s troubles. Nerger has been appointed by the company as trustee and assignee for the benefit of Moo & Oink creditors.
While the company operates four stores, including one in Austin, 4848 W. Madison, the letter refers to three Chicago stores that are available to be purchased. Moo & Oink operates a larger specialty store in the south suburbs. It is unclear if that store is on the auction block.
No buyers emerged early on, but King said that might change now with an auction format.
“They have tried to find buyers at retail prices,” King said. “When it goes to auction, it is wholesale. So hopefully… someone would come out of the wood work.”
Assistance from Ald. Jason Ervin may have come too late. Ervin said he was unaware of the retail store’s financial problems until reading them in the papers. He said he reached out to the city’s economic development department to see if they could offer assistance, but he does not know the outcome of that outreach.
Ervin expressed concern that the store may close since it is a place to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. Austin, he added, lacks local full-service grocery stores.
“It would be a continuing loss in what is already a food desert,” Ervin said.
Business leader Malcolm Crawford expressed concern about the loss of jobs if the company folds. He said the Madison Street store largely employs blacks, an accomplishment not seen at other mainstream grocery stores.
“The job loss is another nail in the coffin,” said Crawford, director of Austin African-American Business Networking Association. “It seems like we are losing on every front. It is very rare to see African American workings, and then to have a major business come in and employ African-Americans from the community, that is another rarity.”
Crawford hopes another retailer would step in and service the community’s need because the area has a lot of potential.
Barry Levy, one of the former owners of Moo & Oink, told the Austin Weekly that he wants to buy the company’s iconic name and logo, which he would then use on meat products that he would distribute and market. Since leaving the company, Levy has started two meat product lines now available in major grocers. One is America Loves Barb-b-que and Love Me Tenders.
When asked what this could mean for Moo & Oink, King said, “No one really knows what could happen.”