Living on an island means you can’t always get what you want.
Year-round Nantucket residents have come to terms with the fact that there aren’t many doctors’ offices, hardware stores, and year-round restaurants on the island — and only one supermarket chain: Stop & Shop.
But with the grocer’s workers on strike for the past week, closing down one Stop & Shop on the island and reducing services at the other, Nantucket residents are facing a new dilemma: Do they cross the picket line? Pay extra for food at small organic grocers and boutique fish markets? Or do they take the ferry to the Cape and do their shopping there, schlepping their bags in a cab or paying a hefty sum to bring their car over?
And with Easter approaching, and the Daffodil Festival kicking off the season the following weekend — bringing in thousands of visitors and summer-home owners — the need for groceries is only going to grow.
The strike, which involves 31,000 workers at 240 stores in three states, began abruptly last Thursday afternoon when workers got the call from their union, the United Food & Commercial Workers, to walk off the job. The workers — 75 percent of whom are part time, according to the union — left cheese unsliced, cupcakes uniced, and have been picketing ever since, protesting proposed increases in health care costs and reductions in pension contributions and Sunday and holiday overtime pay some for part-timers and new hires.
Dozens of stores are closed, according to union estimates, and hours and services are limited elsewhere. Deliveries to some stores around the region have also been delayed, as union drivers refuse to cross picket lines and striking workers block their path.
Many of Nantucket’s 11,000-plus year-round residents are up in arms about the strike, and are doing whatever they can to avoid shopping at the store. But the tight-knit community is also concerned about low-income residents who can’t afford to take their business elsewhere and have no choice but to patronize Stop & Shop, where the bakery, seafood, and deli counters are closed and the meat and produce selection is limited.
Corporate personnel and managers from across the region have been brought in to help out at the Nantucket stores, said Stop & Shop spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan.
“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,” she said in an e-mail.
Kris Kinsley Hancock, a photographer who has lived on the island year-round since 1989, went to Bartlett’s Farm for berries and lettuce and vegetables, and got one of the last containers of almond milk, but said many items were sold out. Her husband came back from an off-island doctor’s appointment with a cooler of milk and yogurt from Whole Foods. The family also has a stockpile of soup, cereal, granola bars, mac and cheese, and toiletries in the basement in case the power goes out or the ferries stop running, which could come in handy soon.
“We’re weathering the Stop & Shop storm,” she said.
The shelves at the Cumberland Farms convenience store were also decimated, said Amy Eldridge, who had to visit a second Cumberland Farms location to find milk, bread, eggs, and lunch meat for her mother, who just got out of the hospital. Ten items cost her $50, said Eldridge, a Nantucket native and an assistant manager at a dry-cleaning facility.
A number of specialty shops are ordering more food to keep up with demand and offering discounts to residents, she noted. But their prices are too high for those who rely on food stamps or other assistance. Ordering online isn’t an option for many people, she said, especially if they need baby formula or diapers right away.
“The community is suffering,” Eldridge said. “This is a very high-end island, and a lot of these boutique stores are designed for the needs of the summer population.”
As the wife of a Teamsters union member, she said, she won’t cross the picket line. And she gets furious when she sees politicians supporting the strikers but not stepping in to help residents on Nantucket.
“We’re kind of stuck,” she said. “I’m trying to shop where I’m not spending $25 a plate, because at this point I could just go to a restaurant for cheaper.”
Karen Theroux, a property manager and 30-year Nantucket resident, was eager to buy daffodils and other spring flowers last week. Stop & Shop had some, but she kept on driving — reluctantly — to higher-end Bartlett’s, where she also picked up bread and cheese. “Their prices are crazy,” she said.
Other than that, Theroux has been eating a lot of pasta and sandwiches and working through items in her freezer and pantry. But she knows that’s not sustainable: “You can’t live off peanut butter forever,” she said.
She has a ferry trip planned off-island to get her car serviced on Monday, and plans to hit BJ’s or Trader Joe’s in Hyannis. She knows some people have no choice but to go to Stop & Shop, but she wonders what they are finding inside.
“If you’re going to cross the picket line, you want to be able to at least get something decent when you’re there,” she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, a number of people taking the ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket were hauling groceries with them to avoid Stop & Shop. Rubidia Escobar, a housekeeper at several homes on Nantucket, stocked up on milk, sour cream, and sugar at the Market Basket in Bourne. Cindy Whitlock, visiting from Washington state with her husband and grandson, stocked up at Shaw’s in Hyannis on her way to visit her daughter, who works at the airport.
“My daughter called to say there’s hardly anything left on Nantucket, and if we want to eat this week we better get her some food,” Whitlock said.
Some residents are crossing the picket line, of course.
Karen Macumber, the owner of Sherburne Inn on Nantucket, is still going to Stop & Shop — a trip she usually makes almost every day for fruit, yogurt, granola, and muffins because trucks from distributors like Sysco can’t navigate her narrow street.
Macumber did, however, go to Bartlett’s and Nantucket Meat & Fish Market to survey their produce selection, but she anticipates that she will still have to at least buy yogurt at Stop & Shop “and hope that it’s not all expired.”
Still, the negative impact the strike is having on her and other small-business owners puts her in a difficult situation, said Macumber, who is worried about the heightened demand during the Daffodil Festival.
“If I have to choose between my business and trying to support the workers,” she said, “my business is going to come first.”