LONDONDERRY — It was a a big anniversary Wednesday as staff and management at the Londonderry Market Basket celebrated the company's success after a troubling standoff years ago forced workers to protest and loyal customers to do their shopping elsewhere.
It's been five years since the end of a DeMoulas family feud that forced thousands of Market Basket workers and their customers to protest and boycott the family-owned supermarket chain.
A seven-week store boycott made for many headlines as workers protested outside stores all over New England and customers and vendors rebelled after popular CEO Arthur T. DeMoulas was fired from his position in June of 2014, part of a corporate struggle between DeMoulas and his cousin, Arthur S. DeMoulas. Others in management were also fired. Others quit in protest.
Eventually negotiations put Arthur T. back on top as CEO.
To celebrate the five-year anniversary, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., paid the Londonderry store a visit Wednesday to greet customers and staff. Hassan was New Hampshire governor while the DeMoulas saga played out.
It was important to come back to Londonderry on the anniversary, Hassan said, as she was at the store soon after Arthur T. was reinstated to the top position.
"This meant a lot to us and meant a lot to the people of New Hampshire," Hassan said. "So many people were affected."
Hassan recalled five years ago when traveling as governor, she would often frequent local diners or restaurants, hearing stories of how the Market Basket boycott had trickled down to affect many businesses in the state.
She said the Market Basket outcome shows the company's commitment to its staff and legacy.
"It's a business that stands up for its workers," she said.
Currently, there are 80 Market Basket stores dotting New England.
For Leanna Battista, it's been 14 years of not only a job, but a family. She stood Wednesday flanked by her fellow bakery coworkers, ready to greet Hassan during the senator's anniversary tour.
"It's everything, it's my family, it's my livelihood," she said. "You can feel it. You feel you can go to people and talk to them."
Many said what happened five years ago was all about saving what the family-owned company held true from its simple market beginnings in Lowell, Massachusetts, more than 100 years ago.
"We all wanted to protect the culture of the company," said Market Basket Operations Manager Joe Schmidt. "If we didn't stand up for that, the company would have been changed forever. We pulled together as a team."
Schmidt has worked for the company for 33 years and is now based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. He credits the workers for all they give to make the company succeed.
"I think the legacy of the associates is a testament, and it's a great place to work," he said.
Mark Lemieux was the Londonderry store manager five years ago during the protest and walkout. He also now works in Tewksbury.
He said he often thinks back to how store staff put their hearts into what they were doing to support the company they loved.
"Deep down in our hearts we knew we just wanted our culture preserved," Lemieux said. "I don't think anyone thought we could do it."
Company officials like Schmidt and Lemieux have decades of service in the name of Market Basket, starting as baggers as teenagers and stocking shelves during high school.
Chris Dick is the current store manager in Londonderry and another example of someone who has lived his life within the Market Basket family. As a 15-year-old, he started bagging groceries at a Market Basket in Haverhill — and it's the only job and company he's ever worked for.
"It's not just putting things on the shelf. It's people," Dick said.
While Hassan strolled the aisles greeting shoppers and staff, many workers behind the deli counters, or stacking fresh fish, recounted a common denominator when it came to what the company means to them: family.
Chester resident Dave Mansur has worked for the company for 27 years and said that rough patch five years ago just reinforced in his mind how important it was to speak out and take a stand.
"We didn't know where we were going," he said. "But all I knew is what I believed in and I wanted to stand up."
Market Basket employees, like Mansur, proudly wear name tags with the number of years served.
Irene Matarozzo has worked at Market Basket 31 years, originally starting her tenure at the former store that stood in Londonderry near the current Garden Lane location.
Originally from Switzerland, Matarozzo said the company has been good to her.
"This means everything, this company is my family," she said. "They took me right in and said, 'This is your family now.'"