After a tough couple weeks for Market Basket’s loyal customer base and employees who were on the brink of permanent unemployment, news broke late Wednesday night that the “deal” had been done – Arthur T Demoulas’s offer to buy the 51% of Market Basket owned by his cousin, Arthur S Demoulas, and family, was accepted.
There was an immediate outpouring of gratitude and elation, followed by feverishly written grocery lists. At home, the Clam family is out of peanut butter, cereal, flour, pasta, rice, chocolate syrup, all kinds of cheese, frozen veggie burgers, and pretty much all meat products except hot dogs. This last week was like when you’re 85% through the Oregon Trail and rations are meager as all fuck and you’re just going hunting every damn day for what you need to make sure your kids don’t starve. Alkali water? Lost the trail? Goddamnit, MECC, you cruel overlords.
If you’re following along at home, this is actually a pretty incredible story that happened locally, but impacts globally. Here’s why:
1. First off, the little guy won. This doesn’t happen in modern day America, aside from rare instances. Employees without the protection of a union were able to successfully picket for what they wanted – not even a negotiable end goal like salary or benefits, but a concrete thing – reinstate Artie T as CEO. That’s it. Nothing less. While it started slowly, locally, the Market Basket story eventually grabbed nationwide media attention. Our local discount grocery with the never-fashionable floor tiling and the kids with the ties on was all of a sudden A Big Thing.
2. The employees had the backing of almost every single customer. Boycotts aren’t often incredibly successful – in this study, 53 out of 144 publicly-owned firms conceded to boycotter’s demands. That’s a 37% rate. While I couldn’t find the data, I have a hard time believing that any of those 53 cases had the groundswell of bipartisan support that Market Basket’s did. And again, that’s publicly owned firms that ostensibly are very concerned about their public image. Market Basket’s privately held board and double-dose of egregiously godawful CEOS Gooch and Thornton, at first glance, seemed relatively unconcerned about their public image, what with the whole “we will fire whoever doesn’t come to work” thing. This was a mistake. Oh my fuck, was this ever a mistake.
3. The protests were epic. The inmates ran the asylum, for lack of a better colloquialism. At every store, there were huge banners of Artie T’s face, receipts taped EVERYWHERE from other grocery stores, and dozens of protesters outside every entrance. Boycotts happen, but has there ever been a boycott where the upper management was unable to keep their stores from being completely overrun by protest signs? Picket line’s usually not INSIDE THE STORE.
4. The family background behind the protest, as I have stated before in a thing that kinda went a little viral, is FUCKING CRAZY. The family is straight-up nuts and the fighting was a decades-long sawdust soap opera. Plus strippers and disbarred lawyers. People want a crazy drama background, and holy hell has the Demoulas family ever delivered.
Of course, *record scratch* the fairytale ending isn’t set in stone. Arthur T Demoulas bought the company and operations are returning to normal very quickly, but the devil is in the details of how Market Basket will be paid for. The purchase price was somewhere near $1.5 B. ONE AND A HALF BILLION DOLLARS. DANG. Artie T and family put up $500m, leaving $1b to be financed – most likely through mortgaging properties. This is going to hurt profits – Market Basket’s key to low prices and relatively good employee benefits was their ability to be almost terrifyingly profitable – they carried so little debt. This is no longer the case. While some of their capital will be saved by not distributing willy-nilly to shareholders on Arthur S’s side like in the past, that’s still not a gigantic chunk of the difference.
In all honesty, though, it may not be perfect, but this ending was the best-case scenario by far. The other options were:
– The stores closing altogether. This would first of all “suck balls” as the kids say, but secondly have a terribly negative impact on our economy – thousands of laid-off workers, plus the ever-expanding lower and middle class that relies on cheap, fresh food to maximize their budget. I don’t want to imagine a world without the Basket, do you?
-Employees giving up and the Arthur S side and its “management” team maximizing profits at the expense of employees and customers alike. The further erosion of worker pay and benefits ticks along and we as a society get used to it. Pete Seeger rolls over in his grave.
It’ll be interesting to see how the whole thing turns out – but the Clam has high hopes for Market Basket in the future. For now, I need a gallon of sour cream and seven pounds of steak to make up for lost time.