40 Days: Market Basket Standoff Reaches Bleak Milestone

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The produce section is deserted at Market Basket's Somerville store. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
The produce section is deserted at Market Basket's Somerville store. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

In several theologies, including the Greek Orthodox faith of the Demoulas family, 40 days and 40 nights is symbolic for a prolonged period of trial and suffering.

It's now been 40 days and 40 nights since Market Basket employees first walked off the job.

The deserted produce section at a Somerville Market Basket in late July. "ATD" stands for Arthur T. Demoulas. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
The deserted produce section at a Somerville Market Basket in late July. "ATD" stands for Arthur T. Demoulas. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

"This is evil," said Cheri Nolan, a general manager at Andover's Indian Ridge Country Club, which Market Basket owns. "They [the controlling shareholders] just want to destroy the company. In my opinion, they are evil."

Protesting at a nearby company distribution center, Nolan accuses Arthur S. Demoulas and his family of deliberately dragging out the sale of the New England supermarket chain to his cousin Arthur T. Demoulas.

"Artie S. is cold," Nolan said. "His sisters are. The board members are, in my opinion, very cold. They could end this now. They could end it now, and they choose not to."

Not according to Market Basket’s board of directors. They say they offered Arthur T. a way to return to the company but not as CEO, saying it was time to move on without delay. But Arthur T. rejected the offer. And the stalemate continues.

Nolan, who has worked for Market Basket for more than 40 years, said workers are anxious.

"Everybody here, everybody I talk to, is worried about their home, worried about their insurance, worried about how they’re going to feed their children, worried about how they’re going to go to the doctor’s," she said.

The 40-day-old standoff is especially nerve-wracking for those who usually get less than 40 hours a week. Lately, they are not getting any shifts.

The union representing some other grocery stores but not Market Basket has been handing out gift cards to workers this week in a gesture of solidarity.

Jeff Goldhaber, who is a shop steward with the United Food and Commercial Workers, said most of the Market Basket workers he’s been seeing are part-timers.

"They all seem very nervous, unsure of what lies ahead. And quite honestly, scared," Goldhaber said.

But Paul Hatziiliades, who owns Extra Virgin Foods in Watertown, a Market Basket supplier, said like the part-time employees he has practically been out of work.

"It’s been very difficult," he said.

Hatziiliades, whose store sells Market Basket items such as cheese, vinegar, oils and Kalamata olives, said the standoff has cost him more than $200,000, and his losses are mounting. But in the hopes that the 71 supermarkets will be up and running again soon, Hatziiliades does not want to stop importing.

"So I have more Market Basket products coming right now, because I can’t cancel them [because in that case] I’m really going to hurt my relationships with my suppliers overseas in Greece. So it’s — just gotta take it on the chin," he said.

Customers are taking it on the chin, too. Many are growing exhausted of the enduring dispute. Some say they’re forming new habits at other stores. But other shoppers, like Becca Thornblad of Wilmington, are standing with Market Basket workers.

"I’ve spent a lot more money in the past month. But I will continue to do it until ATD is back," said Thornblad, adding that all the suffering will be worth it if she gets her old Market Basket back.

"I’m from the Midwest, and you get that same feeling when you walk into the stores," she said. "There’s friendliness, there’s a helpfulness that you can’t put a price on."

So while the company shareholders fight over a price and terms for selling Market Basket, the ordeal continues for workers, suppliers and customers. After 40 days and 40 nights of hardship, many hope Market Basket gets settled before the damage becomes epic.

This segment aired on August 27, 2014.

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Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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