Carrying several bags of groceries, Shawn Oates, of Ashaway, exited McQuade’s Marketplace in Westerly on Friday afternoon and headed for his pickup truck, which he had parked near the roadway, avoiding the crowded parking lot.
Stopping to chat near the store's front entrance, Oates said he usually shops for groceries at the Stop & Shop in Pawcatuck on his way home from Electric Boat, but the United Food and CommercIal Workers Local 328 strike, which started Thursday at 1 p.m., changed his routine.
“I just came from the '49' location. I was planning to shop there and I got out and they were picketing,” he said. “The store on Route 2 is usually where I make my stop.”
Oates wasn’t alone as numerous cars streamed in and out of McQuade’s lot.
Kim Morrone, a supervisor at McQuade’s, said that when the Stop & Shop employees went on strike, traffic increased at her store “within the hour.”
“We got busy and then we just got busier and busier. Today has been like snowstorm busy,” she said, surveying the store from behind the customer service counter.
She said the store has added several cashiers and extra help in every department in response to the surge in customers. “All weekend we’ve got extra staff on,” Morrone said.
The Stop & Shop workers’ contract expired Feb. 23 and bargaining has gone into mediation with the two sides apparently far apart in their proposals for wages and health benefits. The strike was authorized by 31,000 employees and affects 240 of Stop & Shop’s 415 supermarkets across the Northeast, including 92 stores in Connecticut and 27 in Rhode Island.
Until Stop and Shop reopens, Morrone said McQuade’s will continue with increased staff as well as ordering extra merchandise to keep up with the demand. “Extra ordering, extra people in every department — it’s all about keeping the customers happy,” she said.
In contrast with McQuade's, it appeared that the walkout hadn’t significantly affected business at the Big Y at 79 Stonington Road in Mystic on Friday afternoon. Management wouldn't comment, but foot traffic seemed average for a Friday afternoon.
Standing in the Big Y parking lot with a cart full of grocery bags, Lisa Leach, of Stonington, said she regularly shops at both the Stop & Shop in Pawcatuck and the Big Y. “I was curious when I came today to do just the routine shopping and I thought, I wonder if there’s going to be a mob at Big Y" because of the strike, she said.
Leach said she wanted to learn more about the details because it was hard to decipher each side’s position. However, with the strike closing many stores regionally, it was likely affecting the corporation’s bottom line, she added.
“You’ve got food going to waste and that’s a major issue and if it’s all-New England wide, then it’s definitely hitting their pocketbooks,” she said.
She also said seeing a strike was unusual compared with 40 years ago. At Stop & Shop, the last strike was in 1988.
“It’s interesting because I haven’t seen much in the way of strikes in many years. In the '70s there were tons of strikes going on,” she said. “We haven’t seen many strikes, you used to see things shut down, like the airlines’ strike.”
Back at McQuade’s, customer Leigh A. Reposa, of Narragansett, said she was trying the store for the first time and planned to show support for the striking workers by not shopping at any of the Stop & Shop locations.
“I used to work in human resources and I used to do negotiations,” she said. “I’ve seen this in other big retail organizations like Walmart. I’ve had similar experiences so I really try to avoid at places that could be potentially oppressing their employees versus empowering them.”
She said shopping involved making moral and ethical choices and she was trying McQuade's because it was family-owned.
“I’m sure the prices are going to be a little bit more but I’d rather support a local business family that hopefully is treating their employees the way they should be versus a larger chain.”