TEWKSBURY, Mass. -- Market Basket has been returned to Arthur T. Demoulas, the popular former CEO whose firing in June triggered a massive uprising from employees and a nearly six-week boycott that brought the company to the brink of insolvency.
Demoulas will now have control again of the chain his grandparents founded a century ago in Lowell. Family shareholders have voted to accept a bid of a reported $1.5 billion by Demoulas for the 71-store chain, which the board subsequently approved late Wednesday night. Demoulas will regain control of the company immediately and his management team will return, he said in a statement. The current co-CEOs will remain in place pending a closing of the sale, which is expected to take several months, he added.
"The shareholders and the company would like to thank Market Basket customers and partners for their strong support through the years," Demoulas said. "Our shared goal is to return Market Basket to the supermarket that its customers have come to rely on for service, quality and best prices."
"We look forward to seeing you at your local Market Basket," he said.
Keith O. Cowan, chairman of the Board of Demoulas Super Markets, Inc., issued the following statement late Wednesday night:
"Governor Patrick and Governor Hassan worked tirelessly and creatively to help shareholders find solutions that brought them together to reach agreement. The entire board appreciates their time and level of attention.
The employee website We Are Market Basket, a go-to page for workers during the saga, claimed victory, saying "We Are Market Basket and We Are Back."
"Tonight we raise a glass to Artie T and each other as we have achieved the most improbable of upsets. 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," We Are Market Basket said.
"To our customers words will never be able to express our appreciation of what you have accomplished. You are the lifeblood of who we are and we are eternally thankful to you," the employees site said. "Please understand that we will be working around the clock to get every department in every store back up to speed and once we do, we will be better than ever."
Dave McLean, one of seven senior managers to resign in the days after Arthur T. was fired, said he expected to be back at work Thursday.
"We're absolutely excited, relieved and thrilled to be able to get back to what we love most, and that's working for Market Basket and serving our customers," he said.
The decision follows more than a month of waiting by millions of grocery customers and Market Basket employees for what shareholders would decide, which in turn affects the supermarket business across eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Southern Maine.
"What was an unprecedented situation has become historic. Thousands of employees, millions of customers, and many vendors will be breathing a sigh of relief tonight," said Daniel Korschun, a Drexel University business professor who watched the saga closely.
"Never, to my knowledge, have employees, customers, and suppliers joined forces to challenge a board of directors in this way," he said.
"This will likely be closely studied by both scholars and executives for the foreseeable future. It is entirely possible that constituents at other companies could become inspired by this outcome."
The boycott that started July 18 demanded that Demoulas be reinstated as CEO, and stores emptied out of products and customers as the days went on.
Market Basket now faces the monumental task of getting back to normal. The process of restocking produce, meat, fish and bakery sections, along with other items that have run dry, will be multiplied by each of the 71 stores simultaneously.
Some vendors have said they've reached deals with other buyers in the time that Market Basket was at a standstill as ownership talks dragged on. Analysts have also said that many shoppers might choose not to return to Market Basket after having gotten used to shopping elsewhere in recent weeks.
Arthur T. now would likely have to work alongside a private equity firm that is said to be taking a minority stake in the company. Arthur T. has occasionally fought with the Market Basket board of directors, and could have to deal with board members appointed by the private equity firm that might demand the same high profit margins that board members affiliated with Arthur S. long pushed for.
Stores would also have to get up-and-running very quickly. As much as it would need to worry about getting workers and customers back - many of whom may be gone permanently - it most of all needs to repair its relationships with suppliers, said Scott Latham, a UMass Lowell business professor.
"It's going to look like a ghost town," he said of the stores, "and that's going to be really discouraging for their customers." Returning customers may be a major challenge after nearly six weeks of shoppers going instead of Stop & Shop, Hannaford and other competitors, said Peter Thorner, a consultant and former retail CEO.
"If customers desert you and learn another chain, they're very reluctant to unlearn that," he said. The two sides of the Demoulas family, which have fought for decades, were finally brought to an agreement as the company edged close to financial disaster in recent days.
Market Basket's shareholders, who are all Demoulases or in-laws and heirs, were divided nearly evenly between the Arthur T. and Arthur S. sides, with the Arthur S. side holding a slight majority for the past year until the sale to Arthur T.
Whichever side of the family controls majority of the company also controls the seven-member board of directors. It was the board that voted to remove Arthur T. in June.