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Market Basket woes continue

Customers finding alternative stores

  • Market Basket shoppers were sparse over the weekend as employee-urged boycotts and shelves empty of perishables sent shoppers elsewhere for their groceries.
  • Market Basket shoppers were sparse over the weekend as employee-urged boycotts and shelves empty of perishables sent shoppers elsewhere for their groceries.

RINDGE — Cars in the Market Basket parking lot were sparse on Sunday afternoon. At the same time, just a short way down the road, Hannaford Supermarket’s parking lot was nearly full with shoppers getting their weekly groceries.

“It was mobbed,” remarked Hannaford shopper Rick Lund of Rindge. Lund is normally a Market Basket shopper, he said in an interview Sunday, but he and his wife took to Hannaford this week in support of an employee-urged boycott of Market Basket. “The shelves are getting empty. I’ve never seen it that busy. Never, not even when it first opened,” he said, referring to Hannaford.

Several Rindge Market Basket shelves, including those for produce, meat, the bakery department and seafood, are also bare, but it is not, as was the case with Hannaford, because of a particularly busy weekend. The shelves have been empty for a week now, as the company struggles with shipments amidst walkouts of warehouses employees as well as those who drive the delivery trucks to Market Basket’s 71 stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

Market Basket employees are rallying around ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who was fired by the store’s Board of Directors in June. “Artie T.” as he is known throughout the company has been in a longtime feud over the future direction of the company with his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, whose side of the family owns the majority share in the company.

Anita Callahan of Peterborough said in an interview Monday that she has switched from Market Basket to the Peterborough Shaws, in support of the boycott. Although she’s glad the alternative is there, she said, she still prefers Market Basket and would like to get back to shopping there. She said that during her shopping trip to Shaws, the store was much busier than it normally is.

Sandy and Dale Pyer of Rindge said they are regular Hannaford shoppers in Rindge, and they usually only use Market Basket occasionally, preferring the less crowded atmosphere of Hannaford.

“It’s really weird,” said Dale Pyer, “because now it’s like Hannaford is the Market Basket, there are so many cars there.”

The two said they took their young granddaughter into the Rindge Market Basket over the weekend to see the empty shelves. “It was kind of a ghost town,” said Sandy Pyer. “There were some people there shopping, which was strange to see, because what they did have in there wasn’t all fresh.” Dale Pyer added that there were carts of past-date food in the aisles.

Despite not doing their regular shopping there, the Pyers said they do support Market Basket workers and their cause. “We assured the workers outside that we weren’t there to buy anything,” said Dale Pyer, referring to the couples’ weekend trip to the store with their granddaughter.

Local impact

Although customers reported busier-than-usual shopping at Hannaford in Rindge over the weekend, a spokesperson for the food chain declined to comment on any sudden influx of customers when interviewed Monday. “We’re not talking about a circumstance focused on any specific competitor,” said Hannaford Spokesman Eric Blom. “We’re just concentrating on the customers and making sure their needs are met with the products they need.”

A spokesman for Shaws Supermarkets in Peterborough, however, did confirm that for the past week, they have seen an increase in customers coming through the door.

“We obviously have seen a significant uptick in customers. The more noticeable trend started a week ago today, and it’s been pretty wide across the board,” said Jeffrey Gulko, manager of public affairs for Shaws. “We have had to increase shipments, so there are more shipments going out to meet the increase in demand.”

Roy’s Market in Peterborough didn’t see much change in customer demand, said Peter Robinson in an interview Monday. “We have a pretty loyal customer base, and I haven’t seen a great deal of impact,” said Robinson. He said that in speaking to distributors, likely the largest impact would be felt by stores surrounding the Rindge Market Basket, such as Hannaford and Walmart.

Employees stand behind Artie T.’s offer to buy chain

With the majority of the store chain’s 25,000 employees behind him, the “Artie T.” side of the family-owned business has made an official offer to buy the 50.5 percent of shares in Demoulas Market Basket Supermarkets they do not own. A statement issued on behalf of Artie T. reads, “We believe that our offer is a very full and fair one and should meet or exceed a seller’s expectations of the value of the company. We care deeply about Market Basket and all of our associates, and we want to work together to return the company to its successful model for serving our loyal customers.”

Several of Rindge Market Basket’s 350 employees were in front of the store on Sunday during their free time, urging shoppers to boycott the store and take their business elsewhere in a demonstration of support for Artie T. Bernie Jones, a grocery manager at the Rindge Market Basket and an employee of the company for 28 years, said the best outcome for the employees would be for the board to accept Artie T.’s offer.

“If they would accept it, we’d be back in and working immediately,” she said, referring to the dozens of warehouse workers and truck drivers who have abandoned their posts in support of Artie T. “Absolutely.”

Jones said business at the Rindge Market Basket this weekend has definitely been drastically cut down. “I would say by maybe 95 percent, even,” she said. Part of that may be down to the lack of certain products on the shelves, but she said she also felt a lot of it was customers showing support for the employees and Artie T. “Everyone is signing our petition [to reinstate Artie. T.] And some of them when they speak to our managers and ask what’s going on, once they find out, they’re putting their stuff back on the shelves.”

Justine Fragala of New Ipswich, who has worked for Market Basket in both Rindge and Swanzey for 11 years, said the company has always been good to its employees, and every time she’d had to leave the company for health reasons, they’d always hired her back immediately when she was able to work again, and at one point had held her job for her when she couldn’t work due to illness. “That’s all to do with Artie T.’s support, and the employee support we have here,” she said. “He’s a good man. He started working in the stores and worked his way up. The only time I’ve seen Arthur S. is on TV.”

The Market Basket board’s response

The statement on behalf of Artie T. did not disclose the amount of the offer made to purchase the company. But Kevin Griffin, the publisher of the Griffin Report on Food and Marketing, estimates the value of the company is between $3 and $3.5 billion.

Employees and customers held yet another rally outside of Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., on Friday, as the Market Basket Board of Directors met in a closed session. Following that meeting, the board released a statement acknowledging Artie T’s offer, and calling for normal operations to resume.

“Consistent with its fiduciary obligations, the Board will evaluate and seriously consider this proposal, along with any other offers previously received and to be received,” the statement said of Demoulas’ offer. “Following its evaluation of all of the offers, it will convey its recommendations to the company’s shareholders.”

The statement continued to say, “The negative behavior of certain current and former associates is at variance with the company’s culture of putting the needs of the Market Basket customers first. It is now clear that it is in the interests of all members of the Market Basket community for normal business operations to resume immediately.”

The new CEOs of the company, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, issued their own statement Friday, calling for employees on strike to return to work and promising no repercussions. “We appreciate the strain this change of leadership has placed on our associates. We welcome back associates who are committed to Market Basket’s customers,” the two wrote in a statement issued Friday. “There will be no penalty or discipline for any associate who joins in what will be a significant effort to return to the unparalleled level of performance and customer service that have been hallmarks of the Market Basket brand. There will be no change to Market Basket’s unmatched compensation and benefits.”

Employees responded to the statements from Thornton, Gooch and the board via the “Save Our Market Basket” Facebook page, where they are clear on their single demand to bring back Artie T. as CEO. “[Market Basket] associates and customers remain fully committed to our cause. [Artie T.] must be reinstated with full authority as president of [Demoulas Super Markets.] This has been and will continue to be non-negotiable. We also want to be clear in our message to any other potential buyer that we will work for no other CEO,” the post reads.

One employee of Market Basket posted video on YouTube, which was posted on mydemoulas.net and shared on the Save Our Market Basket Facebook page, in which the employee reported having tried to report for work at the Andover Market Basket warehouse after the release of the statement, and was turned away at the door this weekend, being told that only temporary employees were allowed on the premises.

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