The parking lot at the Market Basket off Interstate 93 in Hooksett was nearly empty at 3 p.m. Saturday. (Tim Buckland/Union Leader)
Market Basket employees continued their protests on Saturday in support of fired CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, even as word that an agreement to sell the company to Demoulas could be finalized as soon as today.
"Until it's over," was how long Hooksett Market Basket deli worker Sheryl Inza said she would stand outside the store holding signs calling for Demoulas to be reinstated and asking prospective shoppers to boycott the store. "I'm not going anywhere until this is over."
The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire late Friday released a joint statement about a pending resolution to the Market Basket stalemate.
"In briefings today, all parties report that they are optimistic that an agreement will be reached to sell the company to Arthur T. Demoulas and to restore him to operating authority on an interim basis until the sale closes. Subject to reducing their agreement in principle to writing by Sunday, the Board will forestall taking adverse employment action against the employees who have abandoned their jobs. We are hopeful that employees will return to work, and the stores will reopen, early next week," Gov. Maggie Hassan and Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick said in the statement.
In Londonderry, Market Basket store director Mark Lemieux was guardedly optimistic on Saturday.
"We've been on this roller coaster before," Lemieux said, referring to the news that a deal for the sale of the supermarket chain to Arthur T. Demoulas was finally on the table. "It was a good shot in the arm to see that a final offer has been made."
Many reports, statements
Over the past several days, there have been reports and statements from different quarters that a sales agreement that would end the five-week standoff between Market Basket workers and the chain's new management was hammered out.
For her part, Inza said she wouldn't believe that an agreement had been reached until it was formally announced.
"All I've seen are rumors that are on Facebook," she said.
Demoulas, who was removed by feuding family members who disagreed with his management of the privately-owned company, reportedly has offered $1.5 billion to buy the company from a board that includes his cousin and rival, Arthur S. Demoulas, who led the effort to fire Arthur T. Demoulas.
The price tag reflects the estimated value of the company before the worker revolt that many believe cost the supermarket chain millions of dollars a day in lost sales and spoiled products.
According to a report in the Boston Globe, Arthur T.'s offer was bolstered by a $500 million loan from a private equity firm, which eliminated the need for seller financing provided by Arthur S. and his side of the family.
Ready to return
Arthur T. released a statement Friday night saying the terms of the agreement are "extremely favorable to the sellers," and nothing is standing in the way of reaching a resolution this weekend. As part of the deal, Arthur T. would step back into his role as CEO of Market Basket on an interim basis, until the sale closes.
In Rochester, store director Chris Sturzo was also feeling upbeat about an end to the weeks of picket lines and boycotts.
"Everyone is feeling optimistic, but we still want that final word from the boss," said Sturzo. "Everyone wants to go back to work so bad."Part-time workers have been out of hours and paychecks for weeks as customers in the chain's normally crowded 71 stores dwindled to a handful of shoppers, he said."We miss our customers," said Sturzo. "We let our competition borrow them for a while, but now we want them back."
The Hooksett Market Basket was nearly devoid of customers at 3 p.m. Saturday - a time when an employee should be "running around with my head cut off and trying to fill as many holes as I can," grocery clerk Travis Spear said.
Fewer than a dozen customers were in the store, where numerous shelves for produce and meat were empty. Two of them, Andy and Angela Leach, said they tried to shop at Hannaford Supermarket, but that Market Basket, despite the turmoil, still had lower prices.
"We're saving money," Andy Leach said. "We're buying the stuff we can here, and we go to Hannaford or BJ's to buy perishables."
Angela Leach said they were also turned off to the idea of boycotting after seeing protesting Market Basket employees enter stores to buy groceries. "They're asking us to boycott, but then going in and buying things," she said.Indeed, on Saturday, two protesting employees at the Hooksett Market Basket were seen buying two 12-packs of orange soda, a bag of ice and a case of water after passing a sign in front of a register asking people to "Boycott Market Basket."