Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Finnish Cooperative Societies of Brooklyn.

What is it that makes the Finns so successful at Cooperation? Industry and cleanliness. At any rate those are the striking characteristics of the Finns of Brooklyn.

Up to the present time they have never paid any dividends. It has been explained to them, as their manager says, that if the business is to serve them properly it must grow, and in order to grow it needs all the surplus earnings for expansion. And so, because the members are industrious and far-sighted, they have foregone their dividends. The cleanliness of their stores, too, is an inspiration not only to their membership but to hundreds of others who have visited their plant. This is one of the biggest business assets they possess.

These virtues have enabled the Finnish group in Brooklyn to build cooperatively a three-story modern business block, to run therein a wholesale bakery, a retail bakery, a meat shop and grocery store, a cooperative restaurant and a cooperative pool room, to build adjacent to this two modern cooperative apartment houses and to lay the foundations for a third now under construction. Outside of the housing venture the business done last year was $175,000 and today there are nearly two thousand members.

Although these undertakings are practically a part of the same group there are three separate corporations. The largest of these is the Finnish Cooperative Trading Association, Inc. The restaurant is operated as the Workers' Cooperative Restaurant, Inc., and the housing association as the Finnish Homebuilders' Association, Inc.

The restaurant is the oldest. Seven years ago a group of Finns in this locality boarded together. Their capital was a hundred dollars which some one had loaned to them. They ran their little business on a cooperative basis, paying for the meals and putting back any surplus into a reserve. No one contributed anything, but before long they paid back the one hundred dollars. Early in 1922 they incorporated. They then owned a fine modern restaurant, had done $70,000 worth of business in 1921, and had three thousand dollars in the bank. And no one had ever paid a cent into the business. With all this they sell their food at unusually low prices, well cooked, wholesome, and clean.

In 1917 a larger group determined to have a bakery which came up to their standards. In 1919 they had raised enough money to start construction. Then they faced their first test Their money gave out. Undaunted they organized a money raising "army," as they called it, of thirty or forty men. The money was raised. By the time the new bakery was opened they had fourteen hundred members and had raised $140,000. The total organization expenses for three years came to $400, less than three-tenths of one per cent for promotion expenses.

The new business block was opened in May, 1920. All but the restaurant was under one general manager. He was bonded for $10,000. He had had business experience in running a cooperative bank in Wisconsin. To him was delegated a large degree of freedom, but he was held strictly accountable to the Board of Directors. A thorough and comprehensive system of bookkeeping and accounting was installed. Each separate business, the bakeries, the pool room, the meat shop, was put on a cost accounting basis and the manager knew just which one was making or losing money.

All the branches of the business, however, have made money. Over $12,000 in net earnings, after allowing for interest on the investment, have been made since the business started. Last year the bakery did business to the extent of $135,000, the meat market and grocery $58,000, and the pool room $12,000. Already the business has outgrown its quarters. A new oven has been added to the bakery. The third floor, which was used exclusively as a pool room, has been invaded and the thirteen pool tables rearranged and put closer together so that more room may be had for bakery products. Adjacent land has been purchased so that the building itself may be added to. The membership of the Trading Association alone is eighteen hundred and forty.

The employees of the association work among almost ideal conditions. The twelve bakers are all union men and members of the cooperative association as well. They work seven and one-half hours a day and are paid from forty-five to fifty dollars per week. The light, airy bakery is always kept spotless. Adjacent to it is a commodious room with lockers for each man and two shower baths make it easy to keep clean. Down on the first floor the retail bakery is so immaculately clean that you would be willing to defy anyone to find one speck of dust in the place. Every article of food is under shining glass. The floor is white tiled. But the food is what attracts one. The pies swell out as if about to burst. To look at the bread and rolls makes one hungry and to smell them hungrier still. This, you are told, is because only the purest ingredients are used. Many bakers use powdered eggs for baking, commonly imported from China; this cooperative uses only fresh eggs. They buy a better grade of flour than their competitors do. The same thing is true of the meat shop next door. They do not aim to make money on their meat. Their sole aim is to sell only the best. This policy has been so popular that the quantity sold the first three months of 1922 was almost treble that for the same months in 1921. And the meat store, too, has made substantial net earnings.

The two cooperative apartments which lie adjacent to the business block house thirty-two families. The apartments contain five rooms and bath and are thoroughly modern. They are light and airy with high ceilings and hardwood floors. Needless to say their tenant-owners keep them in the most immaculate condition. Recently a group of business men, several of them builders, went through the buildings and many expressed the wish that they could get similar apartments for three times the money that these cooperators were paying. For the best apartments the rent has recently been raised to $31.50 per month. But out of this amount the tenant-owner is not only paying all upkeep but is paying off the mortgage at the rate of $1,000 per year. Similar apartments in the locality rent from $75 to $80 per month. The tenant-owners, of course, run their apartments on the cooperative plan of one vote per member.

The members of the Finnish Cooperative Societies of Brooklyn are fast becoming independent of the middlemen, for cooperation touches them on many sides. They have learned to serve themselves and they get what they want, honest goods--and clean.