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Market Basket workers keep up pressure

Board is set to consider Arthur T. Demoulas’s buyout bid

Protesting Market Basket workers plan to present the company’s board with tens of thousands of signatures seeking to reinstate Arthur T. Demoulas as president as the directors convene Friday in Boston to consider Demoulas’s bid to buy out his relatives and take control of the privately-owned supermarket chain.

Meanwhile, thousands are expected to gather at Stadium Plaza in Tewksbury — not far from Market Basket’s headquarters — to rally for Demoulas’s return. Tewksbury police estimated a rally Monday attracted as many as 10,000 people, and organizers said the crowd is likely to exceed that on Friday.

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“It should be the social gathering of the year,” said Steve Paulenka, one of the main organizers of the campaign to bring back Demoulas, who was fired from his post in late June by a board controlled by his cousin and chief rival, Arthur S. Demoulas.

If Arthur T. Demoulas’s bid for the company is successful, it would end the decades-long family feud that has roiled one of New England’s largest grocery chains. The value of the offer was not disclosed. But the value of the entire private company was estimated at $3 billion to $3.5 billion by Kevin Griffin, publisher of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing.

The uprising that followed Arthur T. Demoulas’s dismissal expanded into a boycott of the grocery chain that has been enthusiastically supported by longtime customers, as well as more than 100 local political leaders. The movement gained more traction Sunday when the new co-chief executives brought in by Arthur S. Demoulas, Felicia Thornton, and James Gooch,fired eight employees, including Paulenka, after warning them to end the protest. That spurred further protests.

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As a result, many of Market Basket’s 71 stores have been left empty of both customers and products, as workers picket outside and shoppers support their efforts by abandoning the chain in favor of competitors.

Empty shelves at the Chelsea Market Basket Thursday morning.

Jack Newsham/Globe Staff

Empty shelves at the Chelsea Market Basket Thursday morning.

Paulenka estimated that the stores have lost between 90 percent and 95 percent of their usual sales. “Chelsea, Burlington, Brockton, Salem — there’s no one in them,” he said.

As of Thursday evening, organizers had collected at least 170,00 signatures in support of Arthur T. Demoulas through various online and paper petitions. The protest’s two Facebook pages have attracted nearly 89,000 likes.

Market Basket’s supporters on Thursday expressed hope that Arthur T. Demoulas’s bid to regain control of the company by buying the 50.5 percent of shares controlled by his opposing family members is successful. Still, they remained cautious.

“It’s exciting news, but I don’t want to get my hopes up yet,” said Stephanie Schwechheimer, store director of the Haverhill Market Basket. Schwechheimer said all her workers are reporting for duty, and those on a day off are walking the protest line outside, asking shoppers to stay away until Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated.

Paulenka, the organizer, said he and other Market Basket protesters would be anxiously waiting to see what, if any, response the board makes to the offer. The meeting is scheduled at the Prudential Tower at 9 a.m.

“Maybe it will be like the Vatican, where we’re looking for white smoke or black smoke coming out of the Pru,” he said, referencing the signal used when a new pope is chosen by the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals.

Globe correspondent Jack Newsham and Dana Sinerate of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Erin Ailworth can be reached aterin.ailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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