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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Market Basket makes strides toward full recovery

HUDSON – Enthusiasm is good, but lobster is even better.

“It’s the first time they’ve been back in a while,” said Dan Desfosses, manager of the Hudson Market Basket, as he saw deliveries of lobster arrive at the store Friday. Along with clams and crayfish, the lobster filled a seafood section that had sat empty for six weeks during the employee-led boycott caused by the Demoulas family battles. ...

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HUDSON – Enthusiasm is good, but lobster is even better.

“It’s the first time they’ve been back in a while,” said Dan Desfosses, manager of the Hudson Market Basket, as he saw deliveries of lobster arrive at the store Friday. Along with clams and crayfish, the lobster filled a seafood section that had sat empty for six weeks during the employee-led boycott caused by the Demoulas family battles.

“They’ll be ready for the holiday.”

The refilling began Thursday at the Lowell Street store, even as news of the settlement was still circulating. Customers leaned into open display windows as employees arranged fresh fish filets and crab legs on ice. “This came in from Boston’s Globe Fish, one of our usual fish suppliers,” said Jim Close, a 28-year employee of the chain.

The work was part of frantic efforts happening at the 71 Market Baskets throughout New England as they recovered from the boycott since Artie T. Demoulas purchased majority shares of the company Wednesday night.

After the former CEO was ousted six weeks ago, employees across the company’s stores hit the streets to protest, and most customers boycotted in solidarity. Sales dropped dramatically, and some vendors ceased deliveries, causing shelves to remain empty and hours for part-time workers, the large majority of all Market Basket staff, to be cut to zero.

That all changed Thursday morning when the Hudson Market Basket came alive with customer and employee celebration. Instead of picketing along Route 3A, employees gathered at each of the two store entrances to thank and applaud returning customers.

Just inside the building, customers and employees mingled, caught up, hugged and congratulated each other.

“It’s great when the good guys win,” said longtime Market Basket customer Karen Tuthill. Tuthill lives in Amherst but came into the Hudson location Thursday since she works nearby. “It’s the only two stores I go to. I’ve been shopping here for 30 years.”

Tuthill had been tracking the Market Basket ordeal through updates on her cellphone when she heard news of Artie T.’s deal going through Wednesday night.

“It’s exciting – I’ve never hugged to many people in my life. It was the most fun at work I’ve ever had,” said Desfosses, Hudson store manager and 34-year employee.

Tuthill embraced Desfosses when she came in to shop Thursday and congratulated him on the good news. “I am going to cry, because I love you guys,” she said.

Desfosses also heard about Artie T.’s success Wednesday on the news. “I didn’t want to believe it until we heard from our people. Then we saw the message on the ‘Save Market Basket’ website (on Facebook) and received texts telling us we can go back to work,” he said.

Now the employees had Artie T. and their customers back, they needed to replenish their stock. Thursday had a noticeably bare-bones selection of perishable goods, but by midday Friday, each department had something to offer. A round of produce arrived Thursday afternoon, and another Friday.

The Friday afternoon delivery completely changed the scenery in the produce aisle. Shortly after the second delivery, half a dozen employees dragged carts of produce cases on the floor to throw product. “We just got a decent amount delivered – not everything. Saturday and Sunday have huge loads coming in. By Monday, we should be nice and loaded up,” said Cam Scully, of the produce department.

He said the real crowds will come in over the weekend. “It’s going to get a lot more busy. Saturday and Sunday’s going to be bananas,” he said.

Scully said he got the call to return to work right after the news of Artie T.’s agreement. He had recently landed a full-time job at Atrium in Hudson since he lost his hours at Market Basket. “I wasn’t collecting unemployment, but I was looking for work,” he said. Scully plans to remain at Market Basket as a part-timer, working weekends and mornings. “I do want to stay here – it’s a good job,” he said.

Like produce, the poultry, seafood, meat and dry goods were on the road to recovery between Thursday and Friday. A rack of poultry was rolled out on the floor to be worked, and lobsters, clams and crayfish were available again. As an added bonus, the store offered to steam the shellfish at no extra charge.

The beer section was well-stocked, and Coke and Pepsi already made the rounds to the Hudson branch Friday morning. Friday afternoon, employees worked a stack of dry goods directly in the cereal aisle. Bread and pastry racks arrived after close Thursday, and employees had everything on the shelves the following morning.

According to Scully, it’s all hands on deck for available employees.

“Right now, everyone’s in that we could call in,” he said.

Several employees estimated that the store would look good as new by the beginning of next week. Over the course of the six-week Demoulas feud, Desfosses said their location only lost about a half a dozen employees out of the store’s staff of 410.

Desfosses said Artie T.’s agreement is done in principle, but it will take several months to be completely finalized. He said he’s not worried.

“It’s a done deal. Now, we’re going to get the company back to the way it was and make it bigger and better than ever.”

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).