Give Peace a Chance

The Peace Museum, which started out in a counterculture purple building near Cabrini-Green in 1981 and has perched in a handful of homes in that area since, recently moved in with the Chicago Park District. It looks like a marriage of convenience: the stodgy older partner offers the nonprofit stability and great digs. But “it’s a wonderful partnership,” says museum board member Jackie Rivet-River, adding that the museum is still an independent organization. It all happened breathtakingly fast, she says. Last fall, when the museum was in cramped quarters on West Institute Place, board member LuAnne Lewandowski picked up a phone to solicit space and got a sympathetic “I love the Peace Museum; you shouldn’t have this problem” from Park District manager Jennie Kiessling. After that, says Rivet-River, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah–here we are.”

The museum’s headquarters are now in the golden-domed field house at Garfield Park. There’s office and storage space galore, Rivet-River says, but the “most exciting” thing is that all of the city’s field houses are potential galleries. Founded by muralist Mark Rogovin and philanthropist Marjorie Craig Benton, the Peace Museum promotes nonviolent solutions to social problems through education and exhibits. It has 30 exhibits–including “The Unforgettable Fire,” about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which inspired the U2 album of the same name)–and 10,000 artifacts. The first field house shows are already up: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–Peacemaker” at Garfield Park; “Paul Robeson: Hero of Black Resistance” at Douglas Park; and “A Celebration of Peacemakers,” about women activists, at LaFollette Park. They all continue through the end of May.

“Things change, times change,” says Rivet-River. “Foot traffic at our old place was pretty sparse.” Will the Park District be able to censor its new live-in? Nothing formal was worked out on that, she says. “If there ever was an issue, it would probably center around whether an exhibit was too graphic for children–something we’re careful about. It would be hard to imagine a scenario where we couldn’t resolve a situation like that.” Adds Lewandowski, “How much freedom would we have if we closed?”

And No More Reading on the Job, Either!

Employees at Borders Books & Music stores are getting a lesson in capitalism right out of some of the books on their shelves. That fat yellow paperback of Karl Marx’s Capital, for example, might be relevant. Late last month, with disappointed Wall Street analysts breathing down its neck, Borders informed its staff that it was “reallocating resources.” Translation: some jobs were being eliminated, while new positions were being created. While some employees are getting promotions out of the switch, others are out of work or being demoted. In the anonymity of an Internet chat room, employees say any objections to a labor union that existed a few years ago are gone. In 1996, 28 out of 45 nonmanagerial workers at the Lincoln Park store voted to join Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, becoming the first union employees at any of the big bookstore chains. The union presence was never strong though, and it vanished about a year ago, after the store had become an open shop and the number of dues-paying members had dwindled to three.

The most visible loss will be the community relations coordinators who were assigned to each of the chain’s 336 stores (Borders will add another 25 to 30 stores this year). These employees handled the readings, concerts, and discussions that created the impression that each Borders was a participant in the local community. Anne Roman, Borders’s vice president of corporate affairs, says that when the positions were created there were fewer stores and they were more widely dispersed. “Now that we have real market penetration, they may be duplicating or even competing for events in a single marketplace.” With the new arrangement, one area-marketing manager will handle local events for four to six stores. “We’re reducing the number of events in favor of quality,” Roman says. “Not all of the events we had were appreciated by the consumer base.”

Roman says about 190 people are out of jobs as a result of this change alone. Eleven “major market” stores will have their own national events specialists. Tony Barnett, who’s been community relations coordinator at the State Street Borders, will handle these national events for his store and the Michigan Avenue store. Lori Hile, community relations coordinator for Borders on Michigan Avenue, will now manage local events for the two downtown stores as well as the Lincoln Park, Beverly, and Oak Park locations.

In a move affecting a larger number of employees, Borders eliminated the salaried position of assistant manager, promoting some people to manager but demoting others to seller or to the new hourly job of supervisor. They also reassigned some sellers to the new job of cashier. The company presented these changes as an opportunity to better compensate the people who are selling on the floor. But those moving from salaried to hourly positions will take a pay cut–of as much as 30 percent, according to the chat room–and new employees hired as cashiers will be paid less than sellers. Roman says the changes are the result of studies made over an 18-month period and are not a response to the Borders Group’s disappointing fourth quarter; she points out that people already in the seller positions will get raises averaging 50 cents an hour. She says she has no information about another possible factor: recent lawsuits charging that Borders and other large corporations have classified nonmanagerial jobs as managerial to avoid paying overtime wages. There’s an atmosphere of paranoia among the ranks: “You can talk to me if you want to get me fired,” said one employee of this bastion of free speech and cappuccino.

Davis Saved, at a Price

A year ago, when it looked like the Davis theater would be torn down to make way for condos, Lincoln Square residents made enough of a stink to scare off the potential developer and his $1.3 million deal. Then a group of locals tried to buy the four-screen theater. They wanted to preserve it as a landmark and a place where $2.50–or $1.50 if you come early–could buy a ticket to a second-run show. At that price, the ratty seats and the screen that veered off at a right angle seemed like charming idiosyncrasies. The neighbors were outbid by another local: new owner Larry Jones got rid of the roaches, put an antique ticket booth in the lobby, and, to the neighbors’ surprise, turned the theater into a first-run house. Earlier this month admission prices rose accordingly, to $6.50, with $2 off for the early show and for seniors. Jones says he was able to score first-run bookings because he fills the theater. He also says he’s in the process of replacing the seats. With prices jumping to $9 elsewhere, he says, the tickets are still a bargain.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.