More than 10 days into ongoing employee protests, Gloucester’s Market Basket store was a grocery ghost town at midday yesterday, missing perishables and a number of other products from its shelves — and nearly devoid of customers and workers on the floor.
Just about a half dozen employees could be seen, two behind registers and a few others working among the mostly empty shelves and displays. And the number of customers was roughly the same.
Kristen Rideout, along with daughters Erin, 8, and Sheila, 7, all of Gloucester, were some of the only customers perusing the barren shelves.
“We couldn’t afford to wait any longer,” Rideout said. “My budget just doesn’t stretch as far at other grocery stores.”
Store Manager Peter Sauchuk said Wednesday’s meager shopping crowds have been typical of the last two weeks, with employees engaged in a work stoppage that has limited any new deliveries and spurred a general customer boycott as well.
Sales at Gloucester Market Basket have plummeted 95 percent compared to what they were before former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was fired and the protests and boycotts began, Sauchuk said.
“It gets lower and lower every day,” Sauchuk said, adding that the local support for the boycotts has been great.
Sauchuk, a Danvers resident, said he’s worked for the Tewksbury-based supermarket chain for 34 years, he said. However, he and 12 other management-level employees at the Gloucester store have signed onto a chain-wide management employees petition vowing to quit if Arthur T. is not reinstated as CEO, or if his offer to buy the chain is not accepted by the company’s board of directors. The petition has been circulated through Market Basket’s 71 stores throughout Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.
“We’re behind Artie T. 100 percent,” Sauchuk said Wednesday, reiterating a familiar employees’ refrain.
Some area residents had contacted the Times and posted on local blog sites that Market Basket, under its new board, had already started raising prices at its Gloucester store and perhaps elsewhere. But Sauchuk said Wednesday that is blatantly false — and that the chain’s trademark prices will remain low, if ...
“That is not true,” he said. “If Artie T. is in charge, prices won’t go up.”
However, Sauchuk was quick to point out that he has never worked for Arthur S. Demoulas, Arthur T.’s cousin and rival for decades, and he’s not sure what will happen if Arthur S. is in charge.
Morale is low at the Gloucester store, Sauchuk said. While more employees could be seen either standing outside the store or on the corner of Gloucester Crossing Road than those actually inside working, Sauchuk said protesters are not being paid for their time on the picket line.
Workers may clock in in the morning and work for a few hours, he said, but then they clock out, pick up their protest signs and head outside. Others do the same thing throughout the day, Sauchuk said, resulting in different shifts of protesters throughout the day.
While Sauchuk said the company’s beloved now-former CEO has not been to the Gloucester store recently, Arthur T. makes his rounds.
“He gets around,” Sauchuk said, adding that Arthur T. gets to know the employees personally. “He knows their families. ... He’s very hands-on and he always has been.”
Despite holding the company’s highest-level position in the past, Arthur T. treats everyone equally, Sauchuk said.
“He’s just a regular guy,” said Sauchuk, who worked his own way up from a store clerk to his role as local store director. “He works as hard as any one of us. ... The thing with Artie T., too, is he treats everyone fair, from the part-time kid on the register to us in management.”
Sauchuk said employees are following the news of the company, with Arthur T. Demoulas now having submitted a bid to buy out the chain, and the Market Basket board weighing that offer and other options. And the employees are on pins and needles, conceded Sauchuk, since they don’t know if they will have jobs when all of this is over.
Yet the store’s customers remain in limbo as well.
Rideout, a faithful Market Basket shopper, said she has been forced to turn to a food pantry while the employee-fueled boycotts have been going on. She added that her older daughter’s fiance works at Market Basket — and the couple has been picketing along with other employees.
Rideout said budget-friendly prices paired with very helpful staffers who appear happy to work there have always made Market Basket her store of choice. Rideout’s feelings on Market Basket were mirrored in her two young daughters.
“We lasted as long as we lasted,” Erin said.