My lifelong relationship with Market Basket is personal and full of upward swings and downward spirals. I sometimes feel like Market Basket is the Bachelor and I am one of the contestants. I always want to shop there, I always want to spend my time and money with “him,” and explore “his” aisles, but sometimes, more often than not, there is competition standing in my way. Other “contestants” standing in front of the beans or the Asian imported goods -other contestants taking up my precious time with Market Basket.
I love Market Basket for their affordable prices, their kind customer service, and their unique selection of foods. But I didn’t always feel this way, I grew up hating the trip to Market Basket; I always saw someone from school I didn’t want to see and it was always hectic. Back then, prices meant nothing to me.
My first pang of love for Market Basket was when I saw the kind way they treat their employees. When I was in high school, an underprivileged family moved to the area from out West, one of the boys was 3 years older than us, but in my grade. He started working at Market Basket as a bagger to help pay the family bills and now, he is a butchery manager. My love affair with Market Basket grew when I became a poor college kid and found their prices right in line with my minuscule budget.
Market Basket and I hit a rough point in our relationship when I was a cheesemonger. My dream job came into the picture in the form of a small cheese department at a local farm stand. I couldn’t wait to share my passion with the public; exploring my favorite imported cheeses and educating the community about local American Artisan Cheese. The local Market Basket stole a lot of this business, I could not compete with their low prices and they were bringing in a lot of the same product I was selling. At the same time, I couldn’t afford to shop at my very own workplace and Market Basket was offering a 4% discount on almost everything for an entire year!
Then everything changed. The family behind Market Basket fell deeper into a bitter feud fueled by past business greed amongst board members. The shelves of Market Basket emptied and “he” and I took a break. My cheese business boomed. I’ll never forget an emergency trip to my mozzarella distributor where I purchased every case he had in stock; loading it into my car on a hot 85 degree August day.
Market Baskets’ relationship with other “contestants” also faded through the family drama, but those contestants always stayed loyal. Market Basket was so many peoples’ “one that got away,” they knew they’d be back as soon as “he” was back. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, and through the scandal more people saw that the grass is in fact greener in the Market Basket aisles. Prices are better at Market Basket, employees are happier, and the selection is more diverse.
This weekend I watched the documentary “We the People: The Market Basket Story,” The Market Basket revolution sparked nation-wide coverage over the battle between two cousins both named Arthur. Market Basket began as a small butcher shop specializing in lamb back in 1906 in Lowell, MA. The store was owned by a Greek immigrant named Athanasios Demoulas who was overly generous, even offering credit to his customers who could not afford their provisions. This cost him to almost lose his business. After his passing in the 1950’s, Demoulas’ two sons George and Mike inherited the family business, growing it and expanding it until it became a corporation in 1964. George was the face of the company while Mike worked more internally acting as a strict business leader. A trust was formed between both brothers stating that if one should pass, they both had equal stake in the company, the successor becoming the majority owner.
When George passed Mike took the company over with the promise to care for his brothers family. Business began booming and growing from the 70’s to the 90’s and Mike began to open up stores in New Hampshire called Market Basket. A bitter battle ensued in 1989 when Evan, son of George, took notice to the fact that he had zero ownership or stake in any of the New Hampshire Market Basket stores. A lengthy court battle began, turning into one of largest high-stake financial court cases in Massachusetts history.
After Evans’ passing, Arthur S., took over the court case, throwing Arthur T. in the crossfire. The court ruled that Arthur S.’ side of the family would own 50.5% of the company, leaving Arthur T. as the minority stake holder. Over time, Rafalea Evans, the widow of Georges son, began to vote on the side of her cousin-by-marriage Arthur T. much to the dismay of Arthur S.
Arthur T. was the face of Market Basket and quietly coached his employees into faithfulness, hard work and gained their trust. He was widely known amongst employees as a hero of sorts, someone who believed in them and believed they were equal to him. As he managed the stores he often gave away high bonuses refusing to disclose the amounts until they were given out. Over time this created a change in heart in Rafaela. Rafaela began to side with the opposition. This eventually led to the decision to terminate Arthur T.s’ position as president of the company.
Beginning in late July 2014 when word spread of the boards’ unfair decision protests broke out. Market Basket employees began to quit, stop showing up to work, and protest in favor of their beloved hero and leader; Arthur T. For the next few months customers watched Market Basket empty their shelves, employees picket out front of each store, and customers hang their receipts from other stores on the windows. On July 28th, 2014, Arthur T. finally settled the decades long battle over ownership of Market Basket by buying Arthur S. out from the business.
Protests halted, employees returned to work, and slowly the shelves began to fill. At first, it was predicted that there was no way in hell that Market Basket could restore their kingdom of stores to what it once was, but the loyal and faithful customers kept their love for Market Basket. Shelves were full, parking lots became packed, and carts were strewn about the store. The employees were happy and consumers were thrilled to be back together with their beloved Market Basket.
These days I can’t help but feel a deeper connection to my long-term lover Market Basket. Market Basket has always provided a shopping experience that is welcome to all. Whether rich or poor, single or caring for a family of six, Market Basket always has a wide variety of items to put a meal on the table at an affordable price. Market Basket also brings back the power of the people through protest- something we are all in dire need of these days. The fight for Arthur T. shows us that we still can petition and fight the system to help the underdog. Market Basket brings back the home cooked family meal. Finally, Market Basket also provides our immigrant and ethnic communities, often isolated from their home-land, ingredients to make their traditional cuisine. Where else can you find Thai Basil, Baby Bok Choy, Lemongrass, and Curry leaves all in the same place as frozen pizza? When our country seems to be confused about who is a friend and who is an enemy, Market Basket reminds us that our food-munity is here and that there are other people just as loyal and in love with Market Basket. This comforts me and I hope those little things -like an ingredient from home is able to comfort those who are scared and confused in these uncertain times.
We The People: The Market Basket Effect. Tommy Reid. NBTV Studios, Bungelow, 2015. DVD.