No one was browsing the racks at Lululemon Athletica, and Pinkberry had yet to serve its first frozen yogurt of the day when a group of 11 people bustled through the Prudential Center just past 6 a.m. Friday, some carrying colorful blue grocery bags featuring images of Tony the Tiger.
The bags did not contain food but rather paper petitions about the Market Basket supermarkets that the group, a mix of store employees and customers, were hoping to deliver to company directors meeting that morning to mull the fate of the embattled grocery chain.
They positioned themselves outside the glass doors of the Ropes & Gray law firm at the Prudential Tower, where the company directors were scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. They personally wanted to give the directors the petitions — with more than 100,000 signatures — demanding the board reinstate Arthur T. Demoulas as company president, or a ruinous boycott of the chain that began a week ago would continue.
At 6:30 a.m. chairman Keith Cowan was the first board member to arrive.
“I approached him and said, ‘Excuse me, sir,’ probably three times and he just ignored me,” said Eleanor Corcoran, a 28-year old Somerville resident and Market Basket customer who had volunteered to help the protesting employees deliver the petitions.
She was similarly rebuffed when board members Eric Gebaide and Ronald Weiner arrived just before 8 a.m.
“Mr. Gebaide, Mr. Gebaide! Mr. Weiner!” Corcoran called as the pair walked through the glass doors into Ropes & Gray. One of them, she said, “looked me in the eye,” and kept going.
The Market Basket chain has been caught in a decades-long struggle between two cousins, Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas. In late June, Arthur S. Demoulas, who gained control of the board last year, had his cousin fired, igniting a worker uprising that has paralyzed the chain’s 71 stores.
Many are empty of both customers and fresh produce, meat, seafood, and dairy.
Earlier this week Arthur T. Demoulas offered to buy his cousin’s side of the family out, and the board met Friday to consider his bid, as well as other offers from several supermarket chains and private investment firms.
Then, just before 9 a.m., the man who had largely been invisible during the long struggle, Arthur S. Demoulas, popped up on the escalator outside the Ropes & Gray offices and nearly slipped inside unnoticed.
At that moment the protesters’ attention was trained on the arrival of board members William Shea and J. Terence Carleton, and Corcoran just managed to catch sight of Arthur S. Demoulas as he strode toward the glass doors.
“Mr. Demoulas, I would love just a second to talk to you,” Corcoran said, but at that point he was walking inside.
Corcoran was able to hand one bag of petitions to Shea and Carleton, who represent Arthur T. Demoulas’s side of the family.
“Not one of us will shop at Market Basket or any company looking to buy it until Arthur T. is back,” Corcoran told them.
“We have the same feeling,” Carleton told her.
Once the board members had filed inside, the 11 protesters, still holding four bags of petitions, left to join thousands of their colleagues demonstrating 30 miles to the north in Tewksbury in support of Arthur T. Demoulas.