Earlier this week, Arthur T. Demoulas lost his company. Then he lost his country club. If history has shown anything, there’s another round (or two) of the Demoulas family feud to be played.
More than two decades of fighting between Arthur T. Demoulas and his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, has spread from the produce aisles of the family’s Market Basket supermarket chain to the putting greens of the Indian Ridge Country Club in Andover. The club was taken over by Arthur T.’s father in 1977 and is still owned by the company.
On Monday, Arthur T. was fired as president of the supermarket chain by a board loyal to Arthur S.; then, on Thursday, two of the board’s directors visited Indian Ridge with a police escort to broom out the club’s longtime management team, many of whom are loyal to Arthur T.
The confrontation had some of Indian Ridge’s duffers, many of whom remember Arthur T. puttering around the golf course as a young boy, teeing off on his cousin.
“Artie S. is so full of hatred and jealousy,” said 93-year-old Peg Saunders, an Indian Ridge member for 48 years. “Our Artie, everybody loves him.”
A serene setting of tree-lined fairways of deep green suddenly was host to a five-hour standoff, as the two sides exchanged angry words while waiting for a locksmith to show up to change the locks. Teary-eyed country club workers quickly packed their belongings, expecting to be tossed off the property.
And the golfers themselves said they were saddened to see the bitter dispute between the cousins — until now fought in board rooms and courtrooms — invade their peaceful redoubt.
“When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled, and I think that’s what’s happening. I think a lot of people are suffering because of a family feud,” said Howard Shaffer, an Indian Ridge member for almost 30 years. “It’s like collateral damage.”
The brinkmanship eventually eased, and later Thursday, the new executives hired to replace the fired Arthur T. at Market Basket visited Indian Ridge to soothe the situation.
Co-chief executives Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton spent their fourth day in charge of a $4-billion-plus company with 71 supermarkets and 25,000 employees trying to keep peace at a golf course, assuring the current club general manager, Cheri Nolan, and her team that they would get to keep their jobs after all.
“Cheri Nolan and her management team remain in place at the Indian Ridge Country Club,” DSM Supermarkets Inc, the parent company of Market Basket, said in a statement. “The Board apologizes to Cheri Nolan and all associates.”
Neither Arthur T. nor Arthur S. could be reached for comment.
The family that owns Market Basket has been fighting about the company’s assets and management since at least the 1990s. The combatants are the offspring of Telemachus “Mike” Demoulas and George Demoulas, now-deceased brothers who both named their sons Arthur after the family patriarch. The Demoulas brothers turned the business into a juggernaut with dozens of stores, shopping malls, and other holdings in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. The country club has about 150 employees.
But after George died of a heart attack in 1971, his children accused Mike of stealing their shares in the company. The resulting lawsuit escalated into a lengthy and bitter saga. Family members accused each other of drug abuse, extramarital affairs, underhanded legal tactics, and extreme greed. At one point, Arthur T. slugged Arthur S. in the face during a court recess.
Despite the drama, the company has prospered. It is reported to have had revenue of $4.6 billion in 2013 and is ranked by Forbes as the 127th largest private company in the United States.
For decades, Indian Ridge has been used for company meetings and events, and it is also a popular venue for weddings and charity tournaments. But in recent months, it has become one more battlefield in the war between the cousins.
Arthur T., who is not a golfer, has run the club for years through a separate management company whose contract ended in March. He then made the Indian Ridge workers DSM Supermarkets employees. But some DSM Supermarkets directors objected, and after the board fired Arthur T. this week, they put into motion a plan to replace the golf course managers, too.
Nolan said she arrived at work Thursday morning to find police officers escorting board members and the new management team onto the grounds. She said they had plans to change the club’s locks and replace several long-time employees —
Perhaps none more loyal than Nolan. An employee of the club since 1972, she has been in charge of Indian Ridge for 14 years. On her computer screen is a background image of her at a rally Market Basket employees held last year in support of Arthur T. She even has two red bumper stickers on her white Chevy sedan that tout Arthur T. as a “man of integrity” who will save Market Basket.
On Friday, the walls of her office were stripped bare of the family photos and other mementos of events held at the club over the years. “It’s a big win for them to get rid of me,” said Nolan, who, despite assurances from Market Basket’s new chief executives, still believes her job is in jeopardy. “I have no trust with them.”
Like many members at Indian Ridge, Peg Saunders many years ago picked a side in the Demoulas feud. She and her husband, Eliot, joined Indian Ridge 48 years ago after a friend recommended the regular dance nights there. She’s at the club most days of the week, and she remembers a young Arthur T. being groomed to lead the business.
“He was maybe about 10 years old, walking around to all the markets with his father teaching him,” said Saunders, perched in a golf cart, fresh off the course. “The late ‘Mike’ Demoulas was a genius.”
She was not so kind to Arthur S., whom she believes is out to destroy a place that is the mainstay of her social life.
“I’d like to talk to him,” she said, “lay the law down.”
Meanwhile, the statement from the Market Basket board said that the company’s “real estate, business, and operational matters” will be handled by Gooch and Thornton, the new chief executives.