By Jack Minch firstname.lastname@example.org
Gail Engelmann of Westminster was the first shopper in Market Basket's Central Plaza store when it opened at 7 a.m. Thursday.
"Oh, my God, I am so happy," she said.
She stopped to pick up a couple of items on her way to work now that the supermarket drama is over.
Time and again, shoppers such as Engelmann said the chain's prices and friendly employees earned their loyalty.
"I just love the prices, love the store, love the people," Engelmann said.
Nettie Sears of Fitchburg said she learned about the settlement between the Demoulas family members on social media.
"I'm so happy," she said. "I found out on Facebook, and I said I'm coming in today even for one thing to show my support."
The saga started with a family feud between financial titans and extended to company employees who picked sides, but shoppers decided to get involved and sided with Arthur T. Demoulas.
"I felt if the employees were so emphatic about what was going on then it had to be the right thing," Sears said.
Joyce Thibault of Ashburnham said her son works as a deli manager in the supermarket's Swanzey, N.H., store, but she's a second-generation shopper because the prices are good and employees are nice.
"I was so excited to be back here," Thibault said as she left the store.
John Alward of Fitchburg was shopping at the Wallace Plaza store on John Fitch Highway Thursday morning. He honored the boycott employees asked for out of respect for their jobs, Alward said.
"It's like you were in a union or anything else - I wouldn't cross the line," he said. "You don't cross anybody's line whether union or non-union."
Market Basket employees are not unionized.
Returning to the store was like reuniting with old friends, Alward said.
Tracy Marcoux of Ashby was another of the shoppers who honored the boycott and rejoiced at returning to the store.
"There was nothing here," Marcoux said.
She stopped by the Wallace Plaza store to offer her congratulations to employees and ask how quickly they expect to be up and running. Angel Miranda of Leominster stopped shopping at the store during the boycott even though other stores have higher prices, he said.
"I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings," Miranda said, standing in front of an empty display case of zucchini squash.
Janet Shepherd of Ashby said she was excited to be back in the Wallace Plaza store and high-fived an employee when she walked in.
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"As soon as I saw it in the paper (Thursday) morning I was dancing in the street," Shepherd said.
The second-generation customer likes the stores' familiarity and knowing where to find the products she wants.
The best part of the Arthur T. Demoulas' purchase of his cousins' shares of the store knowing the employees can get back to work.
"When this all went down I felt so bad for the people," Shepherd said.
Doris Laquire, of Fitchburg, was in the store to by loose candy but will be back with her sister to do weekly shopping Saturday.
"They're back and I'm back," she said.
Laquire drives a bus for senior citizens taking day trips as far as Scarboro, Maine and hands out candy along the ride.
"I buy my candy here because I can mix and match," she said.
Laquire honored the boycott out of respect for the employees rather than concern about ownership.
"I felt people must have a had a reason," she said. "I didn't know what was going on but I figured the employees must have had a reason."
Crystal Drew of Ayer was back in the store on Sack Boulevard across from The Mall at Whitney Field in Leominster for the first time since the boycott started doing her weekly shopping with sons Ryan, 11, Rafe, 8, and Reily, 7.
"I have a lot of friends who are employees or former employees and just for that reason I was supporting them," Drew said.
The prices are good but she really likes the familiarity of the store's layout and the way it's maintained.
Evelyn Nowell of Leominster dropped off a congratulations card at the service counter.
"It hurt but we didn't come in the doors until (Thursday)," Nowell said.
She was in the store when her daughter Barbie Paull, of Leominster, texted to ask if the store had enough stock for weekly shopping yet.
In the month before the boycott Nowell noticed a subtle shift in the store's operations including a reduction in stock levels.
"Now we trust it will go back to the way it was," she said.
Market Basket earns consumer loyalty because it's prices are customer friendly, said Linda Delphia, of Gardner.
There are supermarkets closer to her home but she travels to Leominster every week to shop at Market Basket and is glad the boycott is over.
"Let's face it, everybody, with the money situation, can't afford to shop at the other stores," Delphia said. "I missed everything about the store."
Gary Del Toro of Leominster has been shopping at the store since it was known as Demoulas' and is a loyal consumer of its cold cuts.
"We come here all the time," Del Toro said. "It's more like a family store."
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