Back to the Basket

For the past six weeks or more, I’ve had no coffee in the house.

For years, I’ve relied on swinging by the Chelsea Market Basket after work to grab a bag or two of the store brand coffee beans. I’ve never run out, but during the Market Basket saga of this summer, the cupboard was bare.

Things got so desperate that our family resorted to digging into our camping supplies and pulling out year-old Folger’s Instant Crystals for that all-important morning cup o’ joe.

A pretty big deal for people who are used to freshly ground beans and brewed coffee every day.

Yet it wasn’t just coffee; it was everything – and everyone seemed to be in the same boat.

There was nowhere acceptable to grab a full cart of groceries as our family has done for years upon years at the Chelsea store.

In other places, prices were simply too high or they didn’t have the same stuff.

The nightly routine in the kitchen sort of went like this.

“What’s for dinner?”

“I don’t know; what do we have to cook?”

“Hmmmm. Nothing.”

That’s why early Saturday morning – before the store even truly opened, when the die-hard Basket shoppers really come out – was such a monumental, and somewhat sentimental, return.

Long-time Manager Kevin Feoli – morning coffee in hand (likely made with those coffee beans I missed so much) – was more or less greeted with applause from the customers who knew him.

“Kevin, good to see you!” customers yelled.

“Glad to have everyone back,” he yelled in return, before buckling down and getting down to the business of selling groceries in one of the busiest stores in the United States.

Some were embracing several of the long-time butchers at the meat counter, as if it were a family reunion.

Sure, the shelves were still a bit bare, some stealthy “facing” techniques were used to trick the eye into making the place looked as it normal does and, maybe, the bananas were a little green. But, it was good to be back at the supermarket that has been part of our family since before the new store. Remember the cramped old store where the frozen food was tucked in the front (separated by a protruding shelf of raisins and dates); where two carts couldn’t fit down an aisle and where learning to stop a heavy cart on a dime was paramount if one didn’t want to steamroll an escaped child?

And that’s where the sentimentality comes in, which is kind of surprising because – after all – it is a grocery store.

The thing that sets it apart are the familiar faces of the checkers, baggers, stockmen and managers. Many I have seen working for decades. Some I already knew from Chelsea and others you get to know over the years as you visit the store week in and week out.

Those are the same people who rallied in Tewksbury to bring back their old boss and the old business plan.

They put up signs during the “dark days” in the store that read, “Bring back our Market Basket Family.”

When it was gone, something really was missing from nearly everyone’s life around here. It’s not to say there is no other supermarkets around (Compare SuperMarket in Chelsea is a nice store run by a nice family), but there is no other large supermarket where a person on a limited budget can retain their dignity and buy quality food at a reasonable price from people they know.

And perhaps that’s why it was so good to be back in the store Saturday morning with everyone back in place – from David McLean, William Marsden and Arthur T. Demoulas at headquarters to the full- and part-time workers that do everything with a smile at the Chelsea store.

On Saturday morning, those familiar faces were at the door greeting customers that they recognized.

“Welcome back,” they said, knowing we hadn’t been there. “Thank you.”

Signs on the window read like decrees, saying, “We will never forget your loyalty when we needed it most.”

Of course, we’ll all go back to the normal shopping routines, and the verdict is still out on whether or not prices will increase and things will be like they were before the vaunted company collapsed.

My bet is things will shake out to eventually be better than anyone could ever expect.

I believe that because Market Basket proved it is a company of people, not of numbers and profits on an accountant’s ledger. Anything built so strongly on human compassion, fairness and warmth – even if it’s just a grocery store – will endure.

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