“Everybody keeps saying it’s going to be taught in schools,” says Fletcher Street Market Basket General Manager Scott Ivers.
Late Wednesday night, a deal worth $1.5 billion brought control of Market Basket, a staple for decades to the citizens of Lowell and New England, back into the hands of Arthur “Artie T.” Demoulas, and employees and shoppers alike couldn’t be happier.
Arthur S. Demoulas, cousin of Arthur T., sold his 50.5 percent stake in the company to Arthur T. and his side of the family. While the deal awaits closure, Arthur T. Demoulas will work with the residing co-CEOs that Arthur S. had appointed on June 23rd.
Experts and non-experts alike are awed by what “Fortune” has deemed an incredibly special case in the world of labor strikes. The employees, customers and vendors of Market Basket were able to bring about positive change through demonstrations and protest, restoring their beloved CEO.
Customers filed early Saturday morning through aisles still in the process of being restocked. From the back storage room employees were already loading product to fill the gaping holes left by stifled supply from vendors and nearly non-existent sales.
On Thursday morning, vendors had already arrived with shipments. “They were here before I was here in the morning,” Ivers said. “I had guys waiting at the front door going ‘Hey we’re back!’”
For six weeks, customers, vendors and employees came together to protest the ousting of beloved CEO
Arthur T. Demoulas in a bid, as Ivers stated, to sell the company off. Shelves were left empty without
a customer in sight and employees stood outside stores and long major roadways holding signs reading
“Honk for Artie T!”
“We weren’t trying to make things work. If something was tipped over on the shelf last week, it stayed tipped over,” Ivers said.
Part-timers, many of them students of UMass Lowell, and others faced layoffs until either the strikes ended or they found other jobs.
Selena Tran, a psychology major and sophomore at UMass Lowell, was one of those laid off for nearly three weeks. “I didn’t know if I should find another job or if I should wait.”
Like many employees, Tran felt that solidarity was important for a company that has offered scholarships, flexible hours and bonuses. She refrained from looking for another job in hopes that Artie T. would retake control over the company.
“He’s fighting for us, and it just seems wrong not to reciprocate that.”
Ridthee Sak, an incoming accounting major, took part in the protests picketing and cheering for the return of Demoulas. “We got a lot of support. It was really fun. We got [sic] a lot of people that care about us, and we care about them too.”
For Sak, Market Basket is more than a grocery store, evidenced by the relief in his face. Most important for him is “the idea of working as a community here.”
“What’s life without Market Basket really?” Sak said.
Brent McAvoy, a freshman and biology major, having been laid-off felt like unfairly cast out of a community. “At first, I felt kind of robbed of my job, I guess, because I’m only a part-timer, and then I got laid off. So, after that, working with everybody to try and bring him back was pretty cool actually. Working together like an actual community, just rallying together to bring him back. We accomplished our goal, so it was a cool sight to see,” McAvoy said.
McAvoy partook in the larger protests in Stadium Plaza in Tewksbury. For him, it was closer to the action. “Over in Tewksbury is where the headquarters are located, so it made more of a statement over there.”
As he looked over at his friend Harry Exarhopolus, a finance major and freshman, McAvoy said “I’m really excited to come back to work. Being able to see everyone again, it’s a really good feeling.”
Receiving the layoff call while on vacation meant more than just losing a part-time job.
“Market Basket’s a team. It’s not just a store,” Exarhopolus said.
Customers are relieved with the return of business as usual. As a place that offers prices lower than all local competitors, the struggle to adjust was a difficult one.
Fabian Reguero, 21, of Lowell, had to cut back significantly. “I went for the minimum, like, the basic necessities, you know, milk and bread,” he said.
Reguero had to deal with defending what he believed in even against his parents’ wishes. “It was weird because my dad still wanted to come here, but I was avoiding it as much as I could. I wanted to support their movement.”
Chris Melendez, 19, of Lowell, also offered his support. “I always honked the horn. Every single time I came by.”
Dania Henriquez, a Middlesex Community College student and mother, felt the sting of higher prices cooking her favorite Dominican cuisine. “At other businesses, the prices are very expensive, but in [Market Basket] I can find every product from different countries,” Henriquez said.
Everyone from the top down agreed that change had to come from the bottom. Scott Ivers, like many others, took matters into his own hands because “…the people that were running the company weren’t running it right.”
In this story, there was uncertainty and sometimes despair as the 40-day standoff changed the way that students, employees and Lowell at large conducted their daily lives. Behind the picketing and empty shelves stood a belief that leaders who put customers and their workforce first are what New England wants and needs.
As Louie Auclair, 65 and a Lowell resident, said with certainty, “I knew they were going to come back.”Connector Editor Marlon Pitter contributed to this article.