Pulling into the Market Basket in Biddeford yesterday we found a parking spot right next to the entrance. Odd for a Sunday.
Greeting us outside the door was not a gaggle of Girl Scouts selling cookies, but employees fighting for their lives and the culture of a company that has treated them like family.
Ninety eight years ago Arthur Demoulas moved to this country from Greece for the American dream. In Lowell, Mass. he launched what would become a 71 store, $4 billion grocery business in an inconspicuous spot in this gritty city.
As a reporter for the Lowell Sun, I used to walk by the plaque that said “This was the spot of the first Demoulas” and marvel at the company’s tiny ma and pa origins.
When they expanded to Maine last year, Market Basket hired over 300 people. These employees started out in search of a paycheck, but found a family with a human touch. A touch extended by Arthur T Demoulas, the CEO that was ousted last month.
Remarkably, the galvanizing effect of the Greek tragedy — splitting the company apart — has united employees, customers and management.
Yesterday people headed in for their daily groceries (some travel from as far as Millinocket, an employee said, for priced-right produce) signed petitions and turned on their heels. “We are not going in there,” I heard a man tell his surprised wife.
I stepped in to see if anything was left and amid slim pickings in this mega store, signs like this peppered the walls.
The company’s steady success was founded on customer service, respect for employees and “more for your dollar.”
Not squeezing out people at the top to turn a profit.
We intended to grab our groceries for the week and be back home reading the Sunday paper, but the solidarity of these employees, who are not in a union but are putting their livelihood on the line for a man who embodies the ethos of company values, was moving.
The stories of employee after employee from Sanford to Saco were a balm in a time of corporate mergers and faceless acquisitions.
“I had to take a bus to New Hampshire to be trained,” said a cashier at the Biddeford store. “When we arrived, Artie T boarded the bus, shook everyone’s hands saying ‘thank you for coming,’ thank you for working for us.'”
Now these working class heroes are willing to put their allegiance where their paycheck is. I thought such loyalty was reserved for sports teams. Maybe Mitt Romney was right, a business is a corporation.
Market Basket has stopped in its tracks since Artie T was dismissed. These people don’t want to work for Market Basket, they want to work for the man — ATD.
Whether he is reinstated or not, Market Basket employees have shown what they are made of. More than baggers, stockers and cashiers, they are standing for a man who stood for them. And that’s what divides this world between paper and plastic.