Courtesy Patty Keneally
(NANTUCKET, Mass.) — Mary Walsh has been working on Nantucket for 40 years, so she’s used to the seasonal nature of the Massachusetts island’s business patterns. But it’s different now.
The island that prides itself on being 30 miles out to sea, off the coast of Cape Cod, now finds itself stuck in a bit of a culinary pinch as the island’s two major grocery stores, both Stop & Shops, are caught in the midst of a company-wide workers strike.
“We’re hoping and praying for everyone that this gets settled,” said Walsh, the owner of Nantucket Wine and Spirits, which is located next to one of the Stop & Shops.
While the island’s seasonal population swells in the summer months, it’s estimated to be home to 10,590 people year-round, according to a 2017 Census Bureau estimate. The Stop & Shop locations on the island are two of the estimated 240 locations that the chain runs in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey. The strike started on April 11, after the company proposed changes to wages, pensions and health care plans. While some of the workers on the mainland have gotten support from high-profile Democrats, like former Vice President Joe Biden and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, Nantucket workers are getting their support from the locals.
One of the locations at the center of the island is open during the strike, staffed by non-union workers, while many of the union members can be found picketing in the parking lot.
Out of respect for the striking workers, many residents are doing their best to avoid the store, but it’s difficult for some who need items like diapers and baby food, which are not normally stocked elsewhere on island – or if they are available, are more expensive.
Jason Bridges, a town selectman who is also the owner of the Handlebar Cafe and Nantucket Bike Tours, said that “it’s serious, and it’s real, but it’s the nicest strike I’ve ever seen. People are bringing [the picketers] out coffee, people are waving.”
“It’s the most respectful strike I’ve seen because I think both sides know we’re going to see everybody tomorrow. They know all their customers and they know the people that work there,” Bridges said.
“Everybody thinks Nantucket is this magical place, and it is, however there is also what I’ve always called ‘the hidden Nantucket,’ it’s the poor, it’s the homeless, it’s the elders who are lonely and don’t have a lot of contact with people. Those are the people I worry about if this strike goes on two or three more weeks,” he said.
On the union front, Erikka Knuti, the spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told ABC News that “we understand the sacrifices that all of the customers supporting us are making.”
“We understand the importance of our store in providing food to the community, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to minimize disruptions for our Nantucket customers and to continue to service the island community,” a Stop & Shop spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.
Stop & Shop competitors on island are trying to be supportive.
Sean Ready, the owner of gourmet food store Nantucket Meat and Fish, said that they’re offering a 10% discount “across the board for all grocery items” during the strike.
“The island is a unique community. It’s one of the communities where when something happens like this, they come together and figure it out,” Ready told ABC News.
Ready said that while they are more of a specialty store, they’ve been buying more “regular items like milk, bread, flour, amid the strike.”
The store manager at Bartlett’s Farm, a working farm with a grocery store and prepared foods section, said that they’ve been fielding requests on social media for special items like quart sizes of sour cream and larger sizes of soy milk. Welch’s Fruit Snacks and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies have also been popular items among parents who normally turned to Stop and Shop.
Another request that took store manager Maryjane Mojer by surprise was the request for white eggs, rather than natural brown eggs, so that they could be dyed ahead of Easter.
Mojer told ABC News that while they do normally stock one or two sizes of diapers, she changed her order to six new sizes “just to try and make sure we had what people are looking for.”
Mojer said that her young staff has been working “the past seven days and 12-plus hours a day. They’re really cranking.”
“We would love to bring in more staff but this time of year, there just isn’t staff to hire,” she said.
Like Stop & Shop’s other competitors, Mojer expressed sympathy for the striking workers.
“They’re community members. They’re people I either taught in school or went to school with,” said Mojer, who used to teach culinary skills and special needs at the local high school.
“I was born and raised here, these are people that we’ve always known,” she said of the striking workers.
Sean Dew, a partner at local store Town Pool, said that the strike has been “a big topic” locally, but he and his family had good timing.
“Luckily we had done a big shop the day before, so we were pretty well-stocked prior to the strike,” Dew told ABC News.
Walsh is another longtime resident who’s trying to help out. Her wine shop will be donating 10% of their profits over Easter weekend to the striking workers.
“They’re our neighbors so we just thought that we wanted to do something, some sort of gesture, to show our support,” Walsh said, adding that she also supports the non-union managers who are working through the strike.
“I know for a fact that all the striking workers understand” if people need to break the picket line, “that they are not taking note of who goes in and who goes out,” she said.
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