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If, as recently reported by the Boston Globe and long suspected by industry observers, Delhaize Group is seriously interested in purchasing the rapidly imploding Market Basket chain –- latest reports indicate that thousands of part-timers have had their hours cut altogether in the wake of plummeting business -– it will represent the end of an era for the family-owned company, which until a few weeks ago enjoyed an enviable degree of customer loyalty to its 71 New England stores.
Neither party is talking, but what's certain is that the situation at Market Basket can't go on much longer.
Notwithstanding ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas' frantic efforts to buy out the rival faction headed by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and regain control of the company, it might well take the operational and financial abilities of an entity like Delhaize to right this sinking ship.
Indeed, if the retail conglomerate wants to speed the process of restoring order, consensus in the court of public opinion says it would be wise to hire Arthur T. back as head of a Market Basket division –- as analysts have speculated that prospective buyers might do –- since the move would reassure employees and customers that the chain won't stray too far from its original core values of fostering often lifelong associate loyalty and superior customer service. Additionally, Delhaize would be able to restock and meet staffing needs to get the stores up and running at full capacity in short order.
Naturally, Delhaize's reported interest stems from the fact that its entrenched Hannaford banner competes with Market Basket in Maine. Thus, if the deal goes through, Delhaize will have a much higher profile in New England, going head to head in a bigger way with such players as Ahold USA's Stop & Shop, and Shaw's/Star Market.
How this will ultimately shake out is anyone's guess. But this much is clear: if Delhaize -- or any other prospective buyer -- can burnish Market Basket's badly tarnished luster and help it recapture its cachet as a peerless local operator, Market Basket, even as a division of a bigger company based abroad, stands a good chance of surviving.