Clamsplainer: Market Basket’s Storied History of Crazy

Most of you are probably aware, unless you live under a rock or in West Gloucester (same difference), that there’s some upheaval going on at our beloved local discount grocery chain. But why, you ask? OH, LET’S DISSECT THIS SHIT. It’s a soap opera of epic fucking proportions. IT’S GOING TO TAKE TWO FUCKING DAYS. FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS AND CRACK OPEN A BEER OR EIGHT.

Back in my first Business Law class (I actually graduated from college with a business degree, to the surprise of myself and everyone around me), discussing the Demoulas case took up more than one full week of class. And this was years before this current drama. At the end, half the class still walked out whispering “what the fuck even happened? Is there some kind of elaborate flowchart regarding this case? Where do JFK and the stripper fit in?

Let’s turn the Clam Time Machine back to 1916 to start this bullshit off, shall we? So back then, a Greek immigrant named Athanasios “Arthur” Demoulas and his wife start a tiny grocery in Lowell selling fresh lamb. American dream, y’all!


O.G. Demoulas store, Lowell.

“Native Lamb” was the metal band I played bass for in high school, coincidentally.


They do this forever, and being a family business eventually pass it off to two of their sons Telemachus (or Mike, because no one can pronounce Telemachus) and George.  The brothers expand the business to a supermarket chain of more than a dozen stores in the 50s and 60s. It’s going well, right? Until George dies of a heart attack on vacation in Greece in 1971. Then shit starts getting real.

Mike (left) and George (right), before shit hits the fan.

Mike (left) and George (right). Notice no one has changed the floor design in a Market Basket since 1956. Not pictured: Sawdust.

Mike now owns this huge empire. And although the brothers had promised to take care of each others’ families in the event one of them died, Mike slowly went full asshole instead. Although at first he bought George’s widow and children things every kid loves, like condos and liquor stores, he eventually sneakily had them signing paperwork that gave himself more control of the company.

George’s family didn’t really have the business experience their father had, and trusted their uncle to handle things like he promised. Mike explained to George’s family that he had opened the Market Basket chain to circumvent the laws limiting liquor licenses to one company. He had George’s widow removed from the board of directors over her involvement with another man. Eventually, he left George’s family with a fucking pittance compared to what the chain’s worth should have been at that point – by moving assets into secondary companies owned by only his side of the family (including Lee Drug, a chain he sold to Walgreens for major dollars).

Some Vintage Crazy

Some Vintage Crazy

In 1990, George’s family gets tax notices about their sale of company stock. This immediately sets off their bullshit detectors, because to their knowledge, they hadn’t sold any stock. So the family figures out what’s going on and sues Mike. It takes years and it’s an insane court battle worthy of a goddamn Lifetime special. Cousins punch each other in the back of courtrooms and eventually a state policeman has to be present at every hearing to limit the punchings. George’s son dies and family members are barred from the funeral. Six lawsuits span the 1990’s. Every lawyer in the state seemed to be involved – Mike’s family had 19 lawyers at one point involved with the case.

Someone paid a stripper to testify against her ex-boyfriend. A juror offered to change his decision if he was given $220,000. Two of the lawyers for Mike’s family, with the approval and knowledge of his son, Arthur T Demoulas, secretly tape record a law clerk saying incriminating things under the guise of a job interview to prove the judge overseeing the case has already decided the outcome prior to hearing the arguments and is prejudiced against Mike. The clerk finds out it’s a setup and the FBI gets involved. The clerk is wired. The lawyers -one a freakin’ former assistant US attorney, another a former advisor to JFK – say incriminating things themselves while wired.

Oh my god, my fucking head hurts trying to explain this because it can’t even be real, but it is. Two of the lawyers end up being disbarred at the end of the suit, and George’s family is successful: Mike is found to have defrauded them out of $500 MILLION and the judge forces 51% of the company to be turned over to George’s heirs. Is the Benny Hill theme playing in your head yet? Even while his assets were supposed to be frozen, Mike was subjected to another lawsuit after it was found that he’d diverted another $68M into his own holdings from mutual family holdings. You gotta admit, the guy’s got tenacity.

Tomorrow: I’ll explain what this convoluted-as-fuck backstory has to do with why the Basket has no fucking produce this week. It’s just as nutty. I guarantee it. 

More Market Basket coverage from The Gloucester Clam:

Part 2: Market Basket is Freakin’ Out

Part 3: Update: Shit’s Like the Titanic

Part 4: The Resolution Will Be Televised