BIDDEFORD, Maine — Shoppers were out in force early Sunday, eager to check out the new Market Basket grocery store at The Shops at Biddeford Crossing.
And they were enthusiastic about what they found inside the 108,000-square-foot food emporium, owned by a family company with the slogan that promises “more for your dollar.”
“I was up at 5 a.m. I couldn’t wait to get here,” said Susan Chevalier of Buxton. “I’m so happy this place is open, and the employees are all so helpful.”
Tony and Lorraine Lemire were longtime customers in their home state of Massachusetts and later, when they lived in New Hampshire. They moved to Old Orchard Beach five years ago.
“One thing I missed was Market Basket,” Lorraine Lemire said as she looked around the store Sunday morning. “We’re in heaven.”
It was busy — very busy. The parking lot was full, and inside there were lots of shoppers and lots of employees to greet customers, stock shelves and answer questions.
Market Basket operates 42 stores in Massachusetts and 28 in New Hampshire. The Biddeford store is the first in Maine, located in the former Lowe’s location — but specifically redesigned and remodeled as a supermarket. The floors were polished, the fixtures gleamed and the shelves were brimming with merchandise.
At 9 a.m. there was a ribbon cutting outside, in front of the store. Demoulas Super Markets President and CEO Arthur T. Demoulas spoke about the family business and its expansion into Maine.
Introducing himself as “Artie” to those assembled, he said that the Demoulas family has been engaged in the grocery business since 1917. He spoke about his father, Telemachus “Mike” Demoulas, who was company president for 60 years and who emphasized treating employees well and making sure the customers who shop at Market Basket receive great value.
“Our roots go back to the mill city of Lowell, (Mass.),” he said. “We have a soft spot for mill cities.”
Demoulas was complimentary to the city of Biddeford, and said working with officials such as Mayor Alan Casavant, City Manager John Bubier, Economic Development Director Daniel Stephenson, city councilors and others had been “a wonderful experience.”
“When the public and private sector work together, [we] can do great things,” said Demoulas.
After his remarks and the ribbon cutting, Demoulas chatted with several people — including a woman from Standish, who said she wishes he’d open a Market Basket there.
So will the company expand further into Maine? Demoulas said that would be considered; Biddeford was a natural fit geographically, he said, as the Portsmouth store is a mere 30 miles to the south and the availability of the vacant Lowe’s building was an attraction.
The Biddeford store employs about 450 people, 15-20 percent of whom are full time. About 250 of the workers are from Biddeford, said company Operations Manager David McLean. Altogether, Demoulas Super Markets employs 25,000 workers.
Michael Sammons is working in the produce department. He’d worked for a different retailer, but said he liked what he’s heard about Demoulas Super Markets.
“They’re fair, organized and hardworking,” he said. “It seemed like a nice fit.”
Several vendors were on hand for the opening, including Cabot Creamery Cooperative, known to many as Cabot Cheese, with a representative handing out samples. She pointed out there are 87 family farms in Maine that sell their milk to the Vermont-based cheesemaker.
In the bakery section, employees offered pastry samples to customers, and as well, the store sports an area where folks can enjoy a cup of coffee, watch the big-screen television or connect to wireless Internet.
Cheryl Kontos lives in Limerick and arrived ready to shop with some other family members. A former resident of Massachusetts, “I’ve waited 20 years for this,” she said of the opening of the Maine store.
Demoulas Super Markets is now the majority owner of The Shops at Biddeford Crossing. The company, headquartered in Tewksbury, Mass., made the purchase from Biddeford Crossing II LLC, formerly Biddeford Crossing, LLC, on July 13, though the Target Corp. has apparently retained ownership of the building it occupies in the shopping center.
Casavant said Market Basket will be a draw for other merchants.
“The vacant spaces will be absorbed quickly,” he predicted.
Inside, before the ribbon cutting, Delores Robinson of Wells, pushing a grocery cart, said she has previously shopped at the Market Basket in Somersworth, N.H.
“I love it,” she said of the new store. “It’s very, very nice. And it’s about time.”
Store Director Micum McIntire, who started working for Market Basket bagging groceries when he was 16 years old, and now has 34 years with the company, looked out over the front of the store from the management office, where every one of the 24 registers was open and doing a brisk business. Scheduled to open at 7 a.m., McIntire had opened the store early, at 5:45 a.m., when he saw folks waiting outside.
“Southern Maine knows about us,” he said, and with a nod to those who have shopped at stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. “They know what to expect, and we’ll give it to them.”