I wasn’t looking forward to hitting the grocery store today. From what I’ve seen on social media and heard from friends and family members, it’s approaching armageddon out there; even in some less chaotic situations, essentials like toilet paper are out of stock. You’ve seen the COVID-19 memes, you’ve heard all the laments.
All things considered, I was amazed by the organization and diligence on display at Market Basket in Brockton. Like a lot of other people on short budgets who are fortunate enough to have a car and decent access to Route 24 via I-93 South, I already frequent and appreciate this store, just like working people all across New England love whatever Market Basket is closest to them. But today, in the midst of what could have been total insanity, it was frankly beautiful to see all the employees buzzing like bees, competently holding the place down.
I didn’t want to bother store workers too much, but I briefly spoke to four of them as well as a manager to ask about their grind this week. By a rough estimate, they have more staff on than even during holidays, and it showed—unlike the zombie stores that you’ve seen on the news, the Market Basket I visited seemingly had everything in stock except for hand sanitizer. Other highly valued items—tissues, tuna, soup, toilet paper, paper towels—were in full supply.
Market Basket, of course, doesn’t typically stock shelves during store hours (unless it is completely necessary, from what I’m told). It’s one of the many pleasures of shopping there, along with not having to be around a bunch of super wealthy people who make unreasonable obnoxious requests over the deli counter, but today it was reassuring to have them around, even if they took up room in the already crowded aisles. From replenishing supplies to answering questions, the calm that they exhibited was reflected in the shoppers, who in turn were on the whole pretty damn neighborly. Black Friday this was not.
I’ll also note that while paper goods, for example, were aplenty in Brockton, in other places, Market Basket has been on the ball with putting anti-hoarding measures in place. As the New Hampshire Union Leader reported, “At the Market Basket on Woodbury Avenue in Portsmouth on Thursday, signs were placed in the toilet paper aisle limiting customers to no more than two packages of toilet paper. The same restriction was placed on cases of water.”
One guy stocking shelves in Brockton, let’s call him Mike, told me that he was pretty thrilled to not only be working, but to be putting in overtime hours. Several family members, he said, are out of the job indefinitely due to coronavirus-related shutdowns, and he will be the breadwinner in his home for the foreseeable future. Thanks to Market Basket, where he has worked for 12 years, he makes a decent salary with benefits to boot. Which reminds me of one of the reasons that I wanted to write this post in the first place.
As many readers will remember, Market Basket almost ceased to exist in its current benevolent form. After a long-simmering family rift between rival factions of the owning Demoulas family came to a head in 2014, a hostile board fired beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who had always trumpeted the fair wages, conditions, and benefits the chain is well known for. In response, thousands of workers, along with family members and supporters, filled Market Basket parking lots across the region, sacrificing their own salary not only for their jobs, but so the rest of us can shop with dignity and buy affordable food.
In crises and emergencies like these, we hear a lot about the first responders and those on the front lines. That’s important, and in this case doctors, nurses, and everyone else working in that realm of healthcare deserve props. But what about the people on the second line, those handling the pandemonium the rest of us are causing, rightfully or not, with our mad dash for butt wipes? At Market Basket in Brockton, they’re hanging in there, going above and beyond for extra long shifts—in large part, I surmise, because of how much pride they have in their place of employment, which treats its workers as well as its shoppers notably well.
From the cashiers, to the meat and fish department workers, they’re all brave souls as far as I’m concerned, along with anybody else working in public while most people stay at home.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.