Labor of love Market Basket getting back to normal

MILFORD – It was just a regular work day at the Market Basket supermarket on Monday, except that it was Labor Day.

But on this holiday, which traditionally celebrates workers and gives them a day off, none of the employees who were stocking shelves seemed unhappy to be there.

In the meat department, Ian Palmer recalled that Market Basket is closed on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, while some other grocery chains are open.

“I always work on Labor Day,” he said, and this Labor Day he was supervising deliveries from suppliers and restocking shelves that had emptied out during the six-week boycott of the chain’s 71 stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

Arthur T. Demoulas was the reason employees have those three big holidays off, Palmer said.

Demoulas was the man at the center of the corporate conflict that halted deliveries and prompted customers to stay away, either in solidarity with employees or because shelves were emptying out.

On Aug. 29, “Artie T.” as employees call him, returned to lead the company, deliveries started up, and customers returned.

By Labor Day, shelves looked almost back to normal.

Palmer was pleased that cooked bacon, a big-selling item, had come in Monday, and he was still waiting for organic meats – hamburger, lamb, and veal.

Filling the store with everything customers expect “doesn’t happen overnight,” said Mark Sturzo, the Milford Market Basket’s assistant store manager, but “by Thursday or Friday (Sept. 4-5) we’ll really be in good shape.”

On the morning of Aug. 29, the morning after the company announced that it had accepted Arthur T. Demoulas’s $1.5 billion bid to buy out the rival family faction, people began returning to the Milford store, some just to express their happiness with the resolution.

Bertrand Desrochers was on his way to his daily bike ride and stopped in before 8 a.m. to wish the employees well.

The retired Souhegan High School custodian and part-time substitute teacher said he had taken part in rallies in Milford and at the Tewksbury, Mass., company headquarters.

“I just love the store and the people who work here, and the prices,” he said. “Everything about the store is a positive thing.”

Desrocher said he empathized with employees after going through a labor crisis at Northrop Grumman years ago.

Dan Colby was one of the first customers to return and he was all smiles.

“All this is probably going to be wrong,” he said, gesturing toward the pile of cleaning products in his cart, “but I’m buying as many Market Basket products as I can find.”

On Labor Day, there were still some empty shelves in the meat and produce departments, but customers weren’t complaining.

“Isn’t that a beautiful sight,” said one woman, looking back at the line of busy checkout counters as she wheeled her shopping cart out of the store.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.