Weeks of employee walkouts and customer boycotts finally forced the board of the family-owned Market Basket grocery chain to agree late Wednesday night to a $1.5 billion deal to sell the majority ownership stake to Arthur T. Demoulas.
"Effective immediately, Arthur T. Demoulas is returning to Market Basket with day-to-day operational authority of the company," a statement said. "All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations."
Decades of simmering intra-family conflict among Market Basket's ownership spilled over in June. One of the company's nine board members, who had long supported Demoulas, switched to supporting his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, last year. On June 24, Arthur T. was promptly fired.
The two Arthurs are both named for their grandfather, a Greek immigrant who started a small shop selling lamb and vegetables from their Dracut, Mass., farm. The dispute began around 25 years ago, with revelations that Arthur T.'s father, Telemachus Demoulas, defrauded his nephews and nieces, including Arthur S., after their father George Demoulas died.
A years-long court battle gave Arthur S. and his three sisters a slight majority stake, but Arthur T. and his three sisters controlled 49.5 percent and the board until the ninth board member switched allegiances.
Market Basket's 25,000 employees and its customers overwhelmingly sided with Arthur T., walking out and spending weeks picketing in front of the chain's 71 New England locations. Their loyalty was inspired by generous pension plans and start salaries and regular bonuses, business practices credited to Arthur T., while Arthur S. was seen as beholden to shareholders and profits.
In July, when it appeared Arthur S. would refuse to sell to Arthur T. -- and the company was losing $8.5 million a day -- a number of other potential buyers expressed interest in purchasing the shares, stoking fears that the qualities that made the chain so popular would disappear under corporate owners.
The deal was finalized after Arthur T. said last week he had managed to secure around $550 million in private equity, with the rest of the $1.5 million put up in cash and a mortgage against the company's real estate holdings.
"Tonight we raise a glass to Artie T. and each other as we have achieved the most improbable of upsets," the anonymous blogger behind WeAreMarketBasket.com, a key source of information to employees about the legal battles. "Tomorrow we go to work and never, in the history of people going to work, will so many people be so happy to punch the clock."
On Thursday morning, thrilled employees returned to work for the first time in weeks, and the customers came with them.
"It's a big burden off our minds," said Somerville, Mass., store manager Mike Dunleavy. "The strain we've been under the last few weeks was tremendous. We weren't sure if our jobs were secure. The board members who fired Arthur T. threatened to replace anyone who stopped working. We weren't getting deliveries, and they were blaming us, when it was actually the customers boycotting the store. We're just happy he's back."
Still, normal operations likely won't be restored for several weeks, as the long walk-out emptied shelves and disrupted supply chains.
Speaking from Tewksbury, Mass., Thursday morning, Arthur T. thanked employees and customers for their unwavering support.
"We thank the customers for all they've done and all the backing and support they gave the people of this organization," he said. "They were a big part of it. They were just fabulous from A to Z."
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