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Market Basket shelves growing bare

Sunday News Correspondent

July 19. 2014 4:41PM

A sign warns shoppers of the depleted inventory at the entrance of the Market Basket store in Tilton on Saturday. (DAN SEUFERT/Union Leader)

Mike LeClair, manager of the Market Basket store in Tilton, stands by a poster honoring Arthur T. Demoulas at his store on Saturday. (DAN SEUFERT/Union Leader)

TILTON – A sign at the entrance of Market Basket Saturday gave customers their first hint that something was amiss.

"All deliveries from our warehouse are on hold," the sign read.

The aisles and checkout lines seemed as busy as ever. The store, which is known for low prices, product variety, and customer service, processes 50,000 shoppers each week, said store manager Mike LeClair.

But shoppers walking among the fruit and vegetable counters and the meat section looked confused, some wondering if there was a sudden food shortage, as many of the counters were bare.

"What happened, Mike?" a customer asked LeClair as he walked through.

LeClair began a lengthy explanation of the crisis at Market Basket, and explained that the store was doing its best to keep as many products on the shelves as possible until "Arthur T." is reinstalled as chief executive officer of the supermarket.

The lack of high-level staff has brought the company to a standstill because the company warehouses are not staffed and operating. Meanwhile, predictions of shortages are coming true. LeClair said on Saturday he had about 30 percent of his normal inventory because the company trucks have stopped delivering.

At no time, though, did LeClair give apologies for the reason behind the shortages – that workers at corporate headquarters walked off the job at the end of the week to try and force the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas.

Nor did he or his staff offer any predictions or optimism about when the store would return to normal.

"We hope our customers will understand that we are doing what we feel is right," said assistant store manager Ed Reed.

LeClair's nametag, which tends to stay on his desk, says "27 years." He and Reed both started working at Market Baskets when they were teenagers. Their careers in the company are typical, LeClair said, and help explain the sense of Market Basket culture among its more than 300 employees.

"This is a very different place to work," he said. "We usually start in the company very young, and it's mostly a hire-from-within. We all know our customers, we know each other, and we know our bosses."

Employees at every level know the top-level executives, including and especially Arthur T. Demoulas, who was ousted on June 23 along with two senior executives.

"They all visit us a lot. Arthur T. would stop by at least once a year and wander around the store, talking to everyone,' he said.

The employees hold nothing against the new leaders of the company, LeClair said.

"Our problem is not with the current CEOs," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to reinstate Arthur T. so we can continue the store's unprecedented growth during the worst of times."

Store cashiers and counter workers said they know "Arthur T." and support the effort to reinstate him. Managers of all 72 New England Market Basket stores endorse the effort.

Some employees said they worried about losing their jobs if the walkout continues. They also joined LeClair's worry about the increasingly barren shelves.

The produce shelves at the Market Basket store in Tilton are becoming bare. (DAN SEUFERT/Union Leader)

LeClair is having other products moved to empty fruit shelves temporarily. "I have plenty of bananas, but produce and meats, the perishable foods, will be gone (Sunday)," he said.

"All we can do is keep the same values and level of service, and hope the board of directors does what is right," he said. "We don't want our customers to have to go to other stores, though they may have to for some things. We don't know how long this will take."

In the meantime, at least for the next few days, the store will be open, selling what it has.

"We're doing what we have to do to keep the Market Basket family and culture, and we hope our customers understand that," LeClair said.

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