Financial Questions Linger As Market Basket Customers, Workers Return

Aug 28, 2014

This sign thanking customer was put up outside the Hooksett Market Basket Thursday.
Credit NHPR / Michael Brindley

The long road back to normal began at Market Baskets across New Hampshire Thursday.

A deal was signed late Wednesday night to sell the majority shares of the company to former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas for more than $1.5 billion.

Since his ouster in late June, workers have protested, customers have boycotted, and sales have plummeted.

In Hooksett, walking into a Market Basket for the first time in more than a month, Alicia Smith of Allenstown couldn’t help but let out a cheer.

“First thing this morning I told my kids, ‘Guess what? Market Basket! We can go shopping again! They were very thrilled.”

Customers like Smith have boycotted the grocery chain’s nearly 30 New Hampshire stores as workers protested, demanding the return of Arthur T. Demoulas.

Smith wanted to support the workers, which meant going to other grocery stores with higher prices.

She says that wasn’t easy.

“We’re a family of seven, so shopping here helps out tremendously with big quantities and the pricing. It’s been tough.”

Like customers, workers at the Hooksett store say they’re just as relieved to see the dispute come to an end.

Assistant store director Ron L’Heureux, who’s been with the company for 34 years, put it this way:

“Besides my kids being born, this is the happiest day of my life, man. We saved our company, bottom line. Customers, the associates. We saved our company.”

The question now is how long it’s going to take for stores to get back to a normal routine.  

L’Heureux says it could be another week before all products back on the shelves.

“Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later. Our grocery department in our store is pretty well stocked, but our perishable department needs some work.”

But restocking product is only the first step.

Amy Schmidt is an associate professor of economics at Saint Anselm College.

She thinks most customers will return, but Schmidt says the biggest issue is financing.

“The fact that Arthur T. has taken on an awful lot of debt for this purchase. Where is that money going to come from to make his interest payments and principle payments?”

She says that money has to be made up one way or another.

“Now whether the new owners are willing to bear that cost primarily on their own or whether we see prices raised and the 401(k) plans less generously contributed to by the ownership, that we’ll have to see.”

As for whether this situation offers any lessons that could affect other workplaces, Schmidt says Market Basket is a special case.

“I mean, first this was a privately-held company, mostly within one family versus a much more widely held company. But then to have this cooperation between workers and management is unprecedented and I don’t think that you can apply that to other circumstances.”

More than anything, workers and customers in Hooksett say they’re just happy to put the last 40 days behind them.

Still, Rachel Spada, who’s worked for the company for four years, couldn’t help but reflect.

At 26 years old, she never expected to be a part of something like this.

“There’s nothing more amazing than being able to stick up for yourself, stick up for the people and stick it to the man, when it’s time. We showed that it can be done as long as we all stick together.”