Market Basket boycott ripples into neighboring stores, causing layoffs at Warner Aubuchon
Market Basket supermarket employees and supporters hold a rally Friday, July 25, 2014 in Tewksbury, Mass., to back ousted former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. The company's board of directors is holding a meeting in Boston. A decades-long family feud among owners of the privately held chain has led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the chain's grocery stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Boston Herald, Chitose Suzuki) BOSTON GLOBE OUT; METRO BOSTON OUT; MAGS OUT; ONLINE OUT
After 40 years of working in retail, Steve Monette knows tough business conditions. He’s worked at Aubuchon Hardware locations during road construction that left excavators parked in front of his store’s front door.
But he’s never seen anything like what is happening at the Market Basket in Warner.
A customer boycott of the grocery chain, inspired by employee protests calling for the return of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, has cut business at his hardware store next door by 30 percent.
To meet his own company’s budget, he’s had to cut one part-time employee who was working 25 hours a week. He expects he’ll have to cut an additional 40 hours from the schedule this week, he said.
“When everybody feeds off each other, and your main draw is the grocery store, it affects all of us,” he said. “I’ve got to look out for my end to stay above and react to the sales losses. . . . I’ve gone through road construction and stuff that knocks you all around, but I’ve never been involved where a business has set out to put a gun to its own head. It’s just mind-boggling.”
He usually has six part-time employees and four full-timers, Monette said. He tries to keep the part-time people on regular schedules so they have some predictability, even through seasonal shifts.
“But something like this is out of everyone’s control,” he said. “You can always fix an overreaction. If you do not react, you’re behind the eight ball, and everything you’ve done for the year is gone, just like that.”
The Aubuchon in Rindge has also seen a dramatic drop in customers since the boycott, but it hasn’t had to cut hours, said Manager Jeremy Nimblett.
Market Basket owns 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, employing about 25,000 people. Hundreds of part-time employees learned late last week they would have no scheduled hours this week, though store executives have claimed they are not laid off.
Arthur T.’s cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and his family hold a 50.5 percent majority of shares. The seven-member board of directors is considering several offers to purchase the controlling shares, including one from Arthur T.
Two of the board members represent Arthur T., two represent Arthur S., and three are supposed to be independent, but recently have been voting with Arthur S., supporting his call in June to remove Arthur T. as CEO.
The three independent board members issued a statement yesterday afternoon calling on the store’s employees to get back to work and for customers to return to the stores.
“It is time to get everyone back to work. We must end this zero sum game and act in the best interests of our Associates, customers – and in the end, our company,” they wrote.
On Saturday night, the majority shareholders released a statement, saying while they are willing to accept Arthur T.’s offer, he would not agree to their terms.
On Sunday, Arthur T. released a statement responding, calling the terms “onerous (and) far beyond comparable transactions.”
“It was (his) hope and intent that this matter not be negotiated in the press,” his spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, workers at the Tewksbury, Mass., headquarters and warehouse are staying home, local stores are waiting for deliveries that never come, and customers are shopping elsewhere.
Foot traffic is also down at Donovan’s Party and Novelty on Fort Eddy Road, home to one of Concord’s two Market Basket stores. But owner Beth Donovan said so far, that hasn’t affected the revenue at the register.
“The clerks all say it’s so slow, but the numbers haven’t shown any effect yet. It’s the browsers, it seems, that are the ones not coming in,” she said.
“I’m afraid it will start to affect us if those people who are just looking but aren’t ready to buy, if they end up going somewhere else when they are ready, because they didn’t come in here to look,” she said.
It’s also been tough on her pantry at home, she said.
“It’s so convenient to have the best prices right next door, but we haven’t been going in. We support what they’re trying to do, and they don’t have what we need for groceries right now, anyway,” she said.
Summer is the slow season for Sal’s Pizza on Storrs Street, next to Concord’s other Market Basket, and there’s been no noticeable decrease in customers since the boycott began, said Manager Tyler Cummings.
“If this is still happening in October, or if they close, then I think we’ll be worried,” he said.
On the positive side, he said, the restaurant was able to fill two openings with part-time Market Basket employees who had lost their hours.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)