Wegmans has the sizzle while Market Basket burns

As the Arthur S. Demoulas clan continues to fiddle while the Market Basket legacy burns, there is another entrant quietly moving into in the lucrative Massachusetts grocery store sector.

This fall, Wegmans, a popular, upscale supermarket chain will land on Market Basket’s turf in Burlington. The chain, which already has a store in Chestnut Hill, will also open a store in Westwood. (Alas, no stores in once-again-slighted western Massachusetts.)

Wegmans is probably not what Burlington’s Market Basket budget-conscious customers have in mind. Wegmans owes more to Whole Foods’ “whole paycheck” moniker than it does to the “more for your dollar” promise that Arthur T. Demoulas partisans cherish.

Market Basket’s current Union Square location in the quickly gentrifying Somerville neighborhood would be another good metro Boston catch for Wegmans if the company decides to expand beyond its currently planned 10 stores in the Northeast.

Boston Globe business columnist Shirley Leung notes the decision to sell is often difficult for family-based chains, unless, like the Big Y group in western Mass., families get past personal politics and act like big food companies by purchasing smaller stores.

But Wegmans, based in Rochester, New York, is just one of the chains that may stand to benefit if Market Basket collapses. Surprisingly, Leung doesn’t mention the most recently departed family-run chain, Chelsea’s Johnnie’s Foodmaster, which closed its doors two years ago after selling off most of its stores to Whole Foods.

Some upmarket retailers have an excellent sense of timing as demographics shift in their favor. Arlington is case in point: A Whole Foods moved into the former Foodmaster location in a town that continues to shed lower- and middle-income shoppers for more upscale denizens. The company also moved into a former Foodmaster location near Inman Square in Somerville. (Stop and Shop moved into another Somerville Foodmaster store on the Arlington border.)

Some Market Basket employees may fear that one of the new executive directors, Felicia Thornton, could steer the chain down a Foodmaster-to-Whole Foods road or worse. Thornton, a former executive vice president and chief financial officer, was a key player in the sale of Albertsons Supermarket to a Minnesota-based grocery chain, CVS, and a private equity firm. She earned $17.2 million after the company folded.

How this exceptionally messy family affair ends is anyone’s guess. According to the Globe, the spotlight now centers on still another family member, Arthur T.’s sister-in-law Rafaela Evans.

Other grocery retailers are no doubt waiting in the wings to snatch up some tasty morsels if Arthurs S. and T. can’t get their collective acts together and resolve their billion-dollar blood feud. But it should be noted that if the question is where do Market Basket customers go should the chain fail, Wegmans is not the answer.



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