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Shirley Leung

One way or the other, Arthur T. must return

Congratulations, Arthur T. Demoulas, you have won the hearts of employees, customers, and worker bees everywhere who hate their new boss.

Now what?

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The Market Basket board confirmed it’s considering your offer to buy out rival cousin Arthur S. and his side of the family, as well as any other proposals that come along.

The board, controlled by Arthur S., also issued a statement to make sure everyone knows who’s still in charge: the new co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch.

That should really go over well with the rank and file, who walked off their jobs in protest of Arthur T.’s firing as president and vowed they wouldn’t work for anyone else.

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The board needs to negotiate a deal everyone can live with. It cannot afford to keep the status quo. Of course, there will be bickering over the price, but no one in the Demoulas family is going to be starving after divvying up a multibillion-dollar supermarket empire.

The company — with 71 stores and 25,000 employees — is bigger than the family.

Whether Arthur T. gets it all or the chain is sold to someone else, he has to come back in some role.

Not because I think he is better than “Bad Arthur’’ (S.), but because after a week of employee protests and customer boycotts, Market Basket will never be the same.

If happy, loyal workers are what made the chain what it is today — a regional grocery juggernaut with a cult-like following – the company has lost that advantage. If Demoulas Super Markets Inc. wants a shot at getting it back, the board needs to give workers what they want: Arthur T.

I know this is hard — perhaps unfathomable — for Arthur S. and his family, who have waged a multigenerational war with Arthur T. Consider that “Good Arthur,’’ in stoking the standoff between employees and management, has shown he is willing to burn down the village so no one can have it.

SHIRLEY LEUNG | 7/21: Put an end to the Market Basket revolt

But if there is any time to end the blood feud, it is now. The empire is collapsing.

It is difficult, even for me, to recommend the second coming of Good Arthur. Earlier this week, I wrote that private companies are not democracies. Like it or not, that’s the truth, and I still believe that. Workers who rebel and jeopardize profits should not be surprised if they are fired or punished for their actions. At least eight Market Basket employees have been let go.

If management folds to employee demands, it can be seen as rewarding bad behavior. But this is different. The very spirit of this company has been broken. The new management, no matter how talented and determined, faces an uphill, if not epic, battle to get things back to normal.

The unrest likely cost Market Basket many millions of dollars in sales when workers refused to stock shelves and customers avoided stores in solidarity.

Imagine those same employees going back to work without getting what they want. Talk about a hostile workplace — and what customers want to deal with that when all they’re trying to do is buy milk and bread? We all carry around enough baggage; we don’t need Market Basket’s, too.

Now if Good Arthur does succeed in buying out Bad Arthur, it’s unlikely to be business as usual. Let’s say Good Arthur, as filthy rich as he may be, has to borrow money to purchase the rest of Market Basket. With that comes loans with strings attached and close scrutiny of how he manages the company finances.

Then there’s the issue of getting the entire operation back up to speed – from suppliers to storefronts — after being virtually shutdown for a stretch.

If the board and family decide to sell to an outside party, Arthur T. would find himself beholden to a new management team.

And even though Good Arthur is beloved by employees, he can be snippy with board directors. Remember this exchange, aired in one of the numerous lawsuits the Demoulases have filed against each other?

“There’s only one boss in the company,” Arthur T. told directors at a 2012 meeting, after being questioned about spending. “There’s not two. There’s not three. There’s not five. There’s only one boss.”

So who’s Good or Bad Arthur now?

The truth is, there are no good Arthurs, just two warring cousins who are destroying a popular company, and the livelihoods of the people who helped build it.

With an offer before them, the Demoulases and the board have an opportunity to put that narrative to rest, once and for all.

It’s time to give this Greek tragedy a fairy tale ending.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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