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Seacoast parents enlisted the help of their children in supporting ousted Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas outside the chain's Portsmouth store on Route 1 Monday. (MIKE LAWRENCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

Market Basket customers gather in Portsmouth to support workers

PORTSMOUTH — About 10 people held signs and collected petition signatures Monday outside the Market Basket on Route 1, creating a micro-version of the enormous rally held simultaneously at the supermarket chain’s corporate headquarters in Massachusetts.

“This is for people who couldn’t make it down to Tewksbury (Mass.),” Dover resident Beverly Witkop said outside the Portsmouth store.

Witkop’s daughter, Greenland resident Brooke Conlin, said she helped organize the local show of support for ousted Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas after a Facebook conversation with a friend, Kerrie Winsor of Greenland, who also held a sign outside the Portsmouth store Monday.

Conlin said she had been shopping at Market Basket for about 25 years and chose to support Demoulas on Monday because of the grocery chain’s friendly feel and focus on customer service.

“It’s a dying breed — it’s the last kind of neighborhood store where it’s all people you know,” she said. “When this is gone, we’re living in a Walmart world.”

Market Basket has 71 stores and about 25,000 employees across New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

Conlin, a mother of 6- and 9-year-old daughters, said she shops several times a week at the store on Route 1, or Lafayette Road, and always checks out in Aisle 1 so she can chat with a particular cashier.

“It’s our responsibility to help these people we’ve come to know,” she said.

Assistant manager Mike Desmond spoke only briefly with the media Monday after stepping outside the store to talk with supporters. He said the store’s inventory was noticeably low after several days of walkouts by Market Basket warehouse staff and truck drivers who supported Demoulas, whom the company’s board of directors fired last month.

“It’s not good,” Desmond said of his store’s supply level.

Desmond was hesitant to say much else, calling the ongoing unrest an “uncomfortable” situation.

At least eight Market Basket executives were fired Sunday, including Mike Kettenbach, deli buyer at the chain’s Tewksbury, Mass., headquarters. Demoulas is Kettenbach’s uncle. Demoulas was fired after years of family infighting that resulted in his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, taking control of the board of directors.

Inside the Portsmouth store, the dairy and produce coolers, fish racks and produce display areas were largely barren. Shelves in most aisles were lined with empty spaces.

In one produce bin, a printed notice asked customers to email new Market Basket CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch, and board members, “telling them that you support us and will shop accordingly.” The last three words were underlined.

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