Monday, January 9, 2012

For profit non-profits...or non-profit profits. Common Table.

I can't resist commenting on the Common Table troubles, as detailed in the column in the Bulletin today.

There are a couple of points that seem to come up again and again, in Bend (and in this blog.)

First, that something that "works" elsewhere doesn't work in Bend. According to the story, all but one of the 18 other "non-profit" restaurants were in more populous areas.

Well, there you go. It won't be the first time that Bend tried to act like it was as big as elsewhere.

But more than that, Bend is different. I really believe that. We have strange demographics....

I've explicated that I think it's because of our relative isolation. We don't really have another metro area for at least 130 miles, over the High Cascades. We don't 'really' have a 4 year college. We are isolated by the fact we aren't connected to an Interstate -- the same 130 mile distance. I think, as well, we don't have a whole lot of strong industry here -- we are a retirement and tourist destination. I think second-home and retired people and tourists act differently overall than long-term residents. Oldtimers act differently than newcomers.

Truth is, though, I don't really know why Bend is so different. I just know, when I compare it with the experiences of other towns, we always seem a little

Secondly, I just don't believe that mixing profit and non-profit works well together. Whether it's a profit store that asks for non-profit contributions or volunteers or a non-profit store that tries to turn a profit. In the first case -- well, that's kind of scuzzy. In the second case -- well, doesn't seem cost effective.

Other -- true -- non-profits can make meals for the cost of 1.00, according to the article. So, I'd have to say, the money stretches quite a bit further, without blurring the goal.

So it comes down to the experience of the poor sitting down next to the rich. I'm not sure why this can't happen any old time. Just head on down to Drake Park, and strike up a conversation. In fact, it probably happens every day at McDonalds. Or even more often, at the public library. It seems like a "do-gooder" idea to me, but one that doesn't have a lot of long term viability.

Unless a bunch of you are doing this on a regular basis? I'd be more than glad to be wrong about this.

I mean, if it works --- great.

But it it doesn't work -- you have to wonder how many meals could be distributed for the same cost.


Duncan McGeary said...

I'd even say that mixing up profit and non-profit businesses has a dilatory effect.

If you are a non-profit, by using volunteer labor, competing in a profit industry, you may actually be keeping a for-profit business from hiring a real employee.

Same thing goes with a for-profit business asking for volunteers. Get out of the way and let a real business take your place.

But even more so -- it is simply wrong not to pay your employees when you are a for-profit business, no matter how you couch it in "the public interest."

Let the marketplace decide -- a fair way, not using unfair tactics. Ultimately it is unfair to the workers.


Duncan McGeary said...

The ramifications of not paying employees are endless.

Do you pay them sometimes (months when you make money) but not others (months when you don't make money)?

Do you pay some of them and not others? How do you decide?

If you sell the business, do you share the profits? Do you just walk away with the money?

Do you pay yourself at all?

If you don't pay yourself at all, do you wonder if you are keeping somebody else from taking your place and actually trying to make money?

Why do you think your business is worthy of asking for "contributions" or "help" or "material" and "Labor" -- and other businesses aren't?

Isn't asking employees to work for free (in a for-business) profit and couching it as in the "public interest" exactly what a conman would do?

Shouldn't you play by the same rules as everyone else? And if you can't compete, why should you?

Duncan McGeary said...

One last thing.

Just because someone is willing to work for free, doesn't me you should take them up on it. Both Linda and I have had offers like that, but we believe we should pay a fair return on the labor.

Just because someone is willing to be taken advantage of, doesn't me they should be.

H. Bruce Miller said...

You're right, Bend is weird. And often not in a good way. I think the isolation is the main factor. That and the history of class stratification (mill workers vs. a tiny elite of mill owners and managers in the old days, ordinary working folks vs. a tiny elite of professionals and (big) business owners today).

H. Bruce Miller said...

Another thought: I believe Bend is especially vulnerable to bad ideas because people here have an almost insane dedication to being "positive." What I mean is that somebody comes up with an original idea (or more likely it's something that was done someplace else) and pitches it, and nobody is willing to step up and say, "Nah, that won't work here" for fear of being called "negative" and ostracized. So well-intentioned but impractical ideas like Common Table, or that Sagebrush charity thing last summer, or the Bend Film Festival (which has been limping along on life support for years) get sold to the community. And then they fail, but that doesn't stop the community from falling for the next new "great idea."

Anonymous said...

Being from the Willamette Valley, I also notice that Bend has a more of a modern "mega church" vibe going on than you'd find in, say, Corvallis or Eugene, where us Godless secular types more clearly dominate the public sphere. This is also borne out in the types of immigrants (i.e. Californians) that we attract versus you. If I understood their blog right, the Common Table folks have a religious theme going on in the background, whereas I doubt you'd ever see this type of thing -- for better or worse -- in the Valley.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate what Bruce is trying to say here and even agree to some extent but while Bend Film had some struggles a couple years ago, I would hardly say it's been "limping along on life support for years" if the, you know, facts below are to be believed:

BendFilm Festival sets records
Artistic director attributes increases in submissions, attendance to quality jury
By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin
Published: October 15. 2011 4:00AM PST

The BendFilm Festival last weekend was the largest yet in its eight-year history, setting records in ticket sales and attendance, organizers said.

Orit Schwartz, the artistic director of BendFilm, said there were 80 filmmakers in attendance with 475 submitted films. Last year, she said, 50 filmmakers attended and 350 films were submitted.

Schwartz attributes the increase to the caliber of the six-person jury. She said the quality was comparable to those at larger festivals, including industry experts such as Audrey Chang, who programs features and shorts for the San Francisco International Film Festival, and Bill Plympton, twice-Oscar-nominated actor and feature filmmaker.

“When you have that caliber of jury, you have a lot of filmmakers who want to be in front of these people,” she said.

Schwartz said her Facebook habit also came in handy. BendFilm developed a social media team to utilize tools like Twitter and Facebook, which Schwartz said contributed to the 15 percent increase in attendance, which rose to 6,500. With filmmakers tagging photos on Facebook, the publicity was a chain reaction that reached 164,891 people, she said.

Portland filmmaker James Westby, who screened “Rid of Me,” said it wasn’t the panel of judges that drew him to the festival, but the personal atmosphere. He said the venue let him connect with the audience after his Oregon premiere.

Westby said as someone who’s traveled the festival circuit and attended larger festivals such as the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he appreciates Bend’s hometown feel.

Anonymous said...

Megachurch thing is right. Same with Cuppa Yo. Hipster church folk support these places for a while...until the next trendy thing comes along.

H. Bruce Miller said...

Re Bend Film: I know it's doing okay attendance-wise, but how about money-wise?

H. Bruce Miller said...

I've eaten at Common Table several times and never noticed any religious theme, nor is it officially connected with any church. Food is very good, BTW.

Duncan McGeary said...

I can tell you this.

There seemed to be almost no buzz this last season. Very few appearances in the local media, very few discussions in the store, very few people in the door identifying themselves with the festival.

So what they say, and what I saw, seem to contradict each other.

Remember when it was front page news?