Gateway Cities taking hit from Market Basket standoff
LOWELL, Mass. -- Market Basket has always had its biggest presence in the state's so-called Gateway Cities, the older mill cities that are striving toward economic reinvention decades after their manufacturing heydays passed.
With the chain's stores all but empty in recent weeks and many of its thousands of part-time workers nearly out of hours, those cities -- like Lowell and Haverhill, with three stores each, and Fitchburg, where there are two -- are hurting most.
"It does have an adverse effect on those individuals who don't have any means to get to another supermarket," Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott said.
Of the roughly 700 part-time Market Basket workers at the three Lowell stores, not one got a single hour of work this week. It doesn't look like any will next week either, unless there is a sudden major change in the nearly month-long boycott, such as a sale to ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
Store managers said they don't have enough sales these days to even pay for their remaining full-time staff with guaranteed hours, never mind paying for keeping lights on and refrigerators and freezers running.
"We're not meeting our payroll, that's for sure," said Chris Tikellis, assistant store director at the store on Wood Street in Lowell, where none of the 225 part-timers were given hours this week.
Of the Gateway Cities in Eastern Massachusetts, nearly all have a Market Basket, including Brockton, Chelsea, Lawrence, Leominster, Methuen and New Bedford. Market Basket built new stores in Attleboro and Revere, two other Gateway Cities, but those buildings have sat finished but empty as the company has gone through months of turmoil.
The Massachusetts Mayors' Association wrote to Market Basket directors last week urging a resolution as soon as possible to the company's ongoing battles, said James Fiorentini, the Haverhill mayor and vice president of the mayors' association.
Fiorentini also met with social-service providers and transportation agencies on Tuesday to see what Haverhill can do to help residents, particularly seniors. The city has no other dedicated grocery store, he said, only a Target that includes a grocery section.
Fiorentini said he hopes public-transportation routes could be changed during the Market Basket protests and boycotts to bring residents to other grocery stores, which was one of several ideas discussed during Tuesday's meeting.
Gateway Cities have long known the value of having a Market Basket.
In 1995, for example, the city of Lowell issued a 10-year tax break for Market Basket to open at the corner of Fletcher and Broadway streets. Such Tax Increment Financing agreements typically come with requirements for investing a certain amount of money in the property or hiring a certain number of workers.
But Lowell so badly wanted Market Basket, it asked for no requirements at all, and didn't require Market Basket to pay any property taxes for a decade as part of the agreement.
South of Boston, Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan wrote to Market Basket last summer after Shaw's closed a store in the city. He urged Market Basket to open where Shaw's stood or in another location in Fall River, which he said offered a "prime location to expand your market presence."
Fitchburg, with two Market Baskets, has seen a growing effect on the city from the dispute, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong said.
"We are seeing more and more employees that have been laid off or had hours reduced begin to look for other employment options and contact our area non profits for help making ends meet," she said.
At Fitchburg's Central Plaza store off Water Street, nearly all of the 285 part-timers were left off the schedule this week, store director John Sevastis said. He decided to keep only the part-time workers who staff the courtesy booth because of safety concerns with cash on hand.
"In the 37 years I've been with the company and my 13 years as director, I've never had to tell someone 'we have no hours for you,'" Sevastis said.
Leominster, which has a Market Basket outside the Mall at Whitney Field, has also been hurting, Mayor Dean Mazzarella said.
"It's having a major effect on the city," he said. "That's all I hear about."
Lawrence residents rely heavily on Market Basket, including one in the city's downtown and two nearby in Methuen and another in North Andover, said Dan Rivera, the Lawrence mayor.
"We depend highly on this business," he said, adding that the city's bodegas, smaller neighborhood shops, have seen a huge spike in demand in recent weeks.
"I support the desires of the employees," Rivera added. "When you have such a great brand and such a great following, I think Arthur T. deserves the job, and most importantly, they need to get it done soon."
Cities with Market Baskets have a variation of what's taken place in Lowell in recent weeks.
At Lowell's Bridge Street store, only one of 16 registers was open on Tuesday, and there still wasn't a line. The store's 300 part-timers were told last week they'd have no hours on the schedule.
"It was like a giant funeral," said Chris Lindell, the store's assistant director. Sales have been down by 95 percent to 98 percent, he said.
Lowell's Fletcher Street store has had sales down about 80 percent -- less of a drop than many others in the 71-store chain because many who live in dense neighborhoods surrounding the store might not have the means to shop at competitors. But none of the store's 180 part-timers could be scheduled this week.
Instead, the two registers that remained open were staffed by people like a worker wearing a reflective vest for his usual duty of gathering carriages in the parking lot.
"The only consolation I could give them is, 'Let's get Arthur T. back,'" said Dave Delaney, the assistant store director.
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