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Magical Thinking: Food Fight!

Fights within a family are nothing new. The world’s oldest literature records them (Cain and Abel), history chronicles them (Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth 1), and folklore embellishes them (the Hatfields and McCoys).

Massachusetts is not new to family troubles, either. In-laws in the Porter and Putnam families tussled in Salem during the 1600s and some of that acrimony fed the Witch Trials. The Friendly’s brothers fought over ice cream. Even the famous Koch brothers’ in-fighting has a tie to Massachusetts – three of the Koch brothers attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Demoulas’ of grocery fame began their epic family fight many years ago when one side of the family discovered that they seemed to have been cut out of some of the profits from the other. It’s a complicated story and one that really hasn’t yet ended.  Most of us, however, sighed a giant sign of relief in August 2014 when Artie T. was victorious over his cousin Artie S.

During those July and August months I bemoaned the unhappy fact that I didn’t live closer to a Demoulas Market Basket. I desperately wanted to picket the store myself!  I nearly drove to the closest location in Bellingham, MA just to drive in and out of the parking lot to show my support for Market Basket employees. I devoured the news each day and subscribed to the Save Market Basket Facebook group. Many of us eagerly awaited Artie T’s triumph, although none of us may have truly believed it would really happen. It was wishful thinking; after all, what grassroots campaign of working class people really prevails?

Fast forward 30 days from July 28 to August 27, 2014 when the seemingly impossible happened and Market Basket clerks, managers, vendors, truck drivers, stockers, and the shopping public pulled off an amazing feat. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the people from Market Basket prevailed and we sat in disbelief that people’s movement succeeded. Artie T. had finally fashioned a deal that would result in Market Basket rebirth.

Shortly afterward, I invested a small amount in a Kickstarter* campaign to help finance a documentary about the incredible business/labor/loyalty movement, “Food Fight: The Battle for Market Basket”. The filmmaker, Jay Childs, promised that the story would be told with footage from the 30-day saga that would focus on the popular story, from the ground up.

When the film was finished nearly six months ago, it was screened for audiences across New England in Portsmouth, Cambridge and Providence and many other cities across New England.  I was invited to a screening as a Kickstarter backer of the project, but none of those screening locations were particularly convenient to me. I knew, however, that part of the Kickstarter campaign promise was to provide me with a copy of the DVD.

*(Kickstarter, for those of you who don’t know, is a global online community that backs creative projects. From Kickstarter’s website, “over 11.1 million people from every continent on earth have backed a Kickstarter project” in dance, film, food, fashion, art, design, journalism, music, publishing, technology and many more worthy categories.)

About a month ago, the filmmaker realized that the backers who were not able to watch the film around New England desperately wanted to. Soon, we were sent a link to the documentary and I was able to watch it online. It is fantastic and I will donate the actual DVD to the library when it is received and we will show it at the library to all who are interested.

The documentary Food Fight! did not disappoint. I was struck by the fact that it is not an Artie T. marketing tool. As a matter of fact, he rarely is on screen. The Demoulas’ family saga is explained in an almost perfunctory manner. In fact, many might want to Google the story online to navigate the complicated history and backstory of the Market Basket saga. The documentary focuses on the inspiration workers and support of the community. Many serendipitous events helped the cause – an empty industrial complex across from Market Basket headquarters, a summer climate that fostered barbecues and parties for striking workers, and the loyalty of vendors, drivers, and working class families.

What the film highlights is the non-hierarchical, of-the-people,bottom-up movement that led to Artie T.’s victory over his cousin, Artie S. While it was the managers who were fired (and were fired up!) who acted first, it was the people who worked for Market Basket, or those who shopped at Market Basket, and those who supplied Market Basket, that put their livelihoods on the line – and prevailed.

The Gloucester Clam, on online newspaper, chronicled the story of Market Basket in a four part “history of crazy.” It is a non-biased story that begins with the immigrant story of Athanasios (Arthur) Demoulas who began “a tiny grocery in Lowell selling fresh lamb.” The story of the Demoulas family focuses on the fact that Athanasios was searching for the American Dream, and found it in the Acre, an area of Lowell which was home to Greek immigrants from across the world. Athanasios actually arrived at Ellis Island in 1906, found work in a tannery and sent for his sweetheart, Efrosine.

Athanasios and his wife started DeMoulas Market (emphasis on the capital M to make it distinctive) in 1916, catering to the immigrants in the Acre. Fast forward to 1954 when their sons, George and Mike, bought the business, expanding it in the 50s and 60s in the Lowell area.  George died unexpectedly in 1971 and the saga that brought on infighting in the family began. It reached a peak with lawsuits in the 90s and continued until that fateful summer of 2013.  It is explained in Market Basket history that you can read online or in books, or view in the documentary, Food Fight!  In 2015, a book by Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker described in detail the incredible story in We are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business. Another documentary by filmmaker Nick Buzzell, “We the People: The Market Basket Effect,” has also been released at small theaters across New England.

We all knew at the time that the story of Market Basket would make a heck of a story and that management, finance, and sociology classes would be studying this legendary tale for years to come. If you are interested in the details behind this amazing story, check out We Are Market Basket or express your interest in viewing Food Fight! when we screen it at the library.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the June 30, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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