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Supermarkets contend with influx of Market Basket shoppers

Union Leader Correspondent

July 28. 2014 7:52PM
Despite a heavy downpour, supporters showed up on the sidewalk in front of Market Basket Monday morning in Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

As Market Basket heads into its second week of protests, picket lines and empty store shelves, other supermarket chains and independent grocers are doing their best to meet the demand from the sudden influx of new customers.

“We’re focusing on serving customers and making sure our shelves are fully stocked,” said Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom.

The Portland Herald reported on Monday that the Scarborough, Maine-based chain has moved employees from its stores in Maine to some of the company’s 34 New Hampshire locations, and in some cases even picked up the tab for them to stay in local hotels.

Blom said he could not comment on staffing issues or on the ongoing problems at Market Basket.

For the last 10 days, Market Basket workers have been calling in sick and heading to rallies and picket lines to demand that ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas be reinstated. The board of directors for the family-owned grocery chain fired Demoulas last month after years of intense feuding that has divided the Demoulas family.

Workers who are fiercely loyal to Arthur T. fear the company’s new management will abandon Market Basket’s culture of customer service and its emphasis on employee benefits and support, and focus instead on high profits. Arthur T. has offered to buy out the rival faction of the family, and the board has said it will evaluate and consider the proposal.

An emergency meeting of the board was scheduled Monday at 6 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Boston.

The website, which is independent of the corporation, posted a Twitter report around 8:45 p.m. saying the board meeting had adjourned with no decision, prompting frustrated posts from supporters on the Facebook page Save Market Basket.

“I don’t know what is taking them so long,” one post said.

But while warehouse workers and delivery truck drivers have been rallying for Arthur T.’s return, supplies have been interrupted and many of the shelves in the chain’s 71 stores have remained empty. And customers, many of whom have voiced support for the workers, have been heading elsewhere to shop for their groceries.

“Our staff is doing a great job of keeping the shelves full,” said Blom, although not all customers and observers agree.

Jeffery Gulko, a spokesman for Shaw’s and Star Market, which has 28 stores in New Hampshire, said his company has definitely seen in increase in sales.

“The first big jump was last Monday,” said Gulko who added it was especially busy at the store on Broadway in Salem where, for the past several years, Shaw’s has been competing with two Market Basket stores on the other side of the road.

“We definitely have had more registers open,” he said adding that workers are doing whatever it takes to make sure the products people want and need are on the shelves.

“This is so unprecedented and everyone is watching,” he said.

And many are reporting what they see on Twitter and other social media sites.

On Sunday, Jason Mihalko of Cambridge, Mass. sent a tweet to Hannaford’s complaining they weren’t prepared to for the extra business from Market Basket regulars.

“No bread or apples today,” wrote Mihalko.

“We’re sorry for this,” tweeted back Hannaford’s. “Please know we’re doing what we can to keep up.”

Charlie Harris, a Shaw’s employee from Medway, Mass., tweeted out his thanks to Market Basket workers for the extra hours.

Nashua Emergency Alerts, which tweets Nashua-specific items picked up from scanners, posted a photo of empty shelves at the Nashua store, and a message that the chain has been unable to meet the new demand. And other tweets and posts from customers have complained about the higher prices in competing chains.

The grocery stores that seem to be benefitting without being overwhelmed may be the smaller grocery store’s like Sully’s, formerly Bi-Wise, in Allenstown.

“We’re seeing an uptick in business, but we’ve been able to absorb it,” said Sully’s manager, Mark Girardin, who describes the store as a “secondary supply” for consumers.

Opened in 1966, Sully’s was purchased in January by Associated Grocers of New England, a co-op for independent grocers which also owns several stores.

Although Sully’s has had to order more products, and ring up more customers, Girardin said there haven’t been any problems.

“We can handle it,” he said. “We’re nimble.”

Girardin also said Sully’s knows the needs and expectations of the community.

“We have a similar dynamic that stresses customer service like the one at Market Basket,” he said. “We’re old school with a management style similar to Artie T.”

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