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As Arthur T. returns, Market Basket springs back to life

Speaking from a podium on the back of a pickup truck outside Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury this morning, Arthur T. Demoulas expressed his gratitude to an enthusiastic crowd of employees for their efforts in helping him win back control of the company.

“Words cannot express how much I appreciate each and every one of you,” Arthur T. said. “You are simply the best.”

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Arthur T., who reached a deal to buy the company from rival relatives for more than $1.5 billion on Wednesday night, told the crowd that he was in awe of what protesting Market Basket employees and customers accomplished.

“As I stand here, there is very little that I could ever add to your brilliant work, your extraordinary display of loyalty, and the power of your enduring spirit over the past several weeks,” Arthur T. said.

The company’s shareholders announced the deal at 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday after several days of suspenseful negotiations. Arthur T. and his siblings will buy the shares of their cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and other relatives on his side of the family, who collectively own 50.5 percent of the company.

RELATED: Market Basket deal ends bitter feud

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Arthur T. said the company’s associates, workers, customers, and vendors showed the region and the entire country that the workplace at Market Basket is about much more than just a job.

“You taught everybody that ... Market Basket is a place where respect, honor, and dignity is a way of life,” said Arthur T., who also subtly addressed his feud with rival cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. “This was not about a family conflict or a Greek tragedy, but more about fairness, justice, and a solid moral compass that united the human soul.”

Arthur T. also credited Market Basket’s workers with protecting the culture of honor and dignity that was established by his father, Telemachus Demoulas. “Because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose,” he said.

“It’s great to be together again, you’re one of a kind,” he said.

Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury was buzzing with activity this morning. Employees said they’ve gotten very little sleep, if any, with workers mostly running on adrenaline and coffee.

Steve Paulenka, a fired Market Basket manager who has organized protests calling for the return of Arthur T., was suited up for work this morning, although he said — with a smile — that he’s not sure if he still has a job.

“I think I’m employed. I’m really not sure,” he said. Paulenka has been in Tewksbury since 1:45 a.m.

Despite some initial hiccups -- employees were unable to log into their computers, and some complained of misplaced paperwork -- many workers at Tewksbury headquarters were optimistic that the company would get back on track quickly.

Still, there was an undercurrent of tension between some employees who walked out and others who stayed.

Several workers murmured and gestured toward a group of employees who worked through the boycott, but most declined to comment when asked about their feelings.

“People do what they do for their own reasons,” said Ann Rogers, an employee in the accounts payable department. She said the employee walk-out would have been more effective if all the employees had taken part.

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In Brockton, roughy two dozen employees and shoppers gathered in front of the television at Market Basket to watch Arthur T.’s speech, broadcast live on Fox 25. When an anchor later described the uphill battle the company is facing, a few employees cheered, “Bring it on!”

Store manager Glenn Connors, who’s been with the company for 36 years, said he’s deeply relieved the saga is over. “This is in our rear-view mirror now,” he said. “Our strategy is to move forward and get back to being a people-first business.”

Connors said he usually won’t shop at any other supermarket but was recently forced to buy at Hannaford. “Good for them, they’re getting the business. But the prices there? Outrageous.”

The company’s warehouse in Tewksbury sprung to life this morning, with workers busy on forklifts and moving hand carts, and every single bay loaded with trucks, many of which were stuffed to capacity. Warehouse assistant supervisor John Kelleher said he was nervous in the final weeks of the standoff, but now, it’s “all hands on deck.”

“I feel like we won the lottery!” said Frank DiMauro, a 28-year veteran of the company and warehouse worker in Andover.

“We did,” replied Andy Lien, director of the perishable warehouse in Andover. “We really did.”

Lien said he arrived at the warehouse at 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning and started going through the inventory. He expects to start shipping to the stores on Friday morning.

Trucks from vendors are on the road now. Lien said FB Packing of Boston has seven trucks full of beef and pork headed to Andover now. Some of the bigger stores will receive direct shipments from vendors to speed up the restocking process.

RELATED: Happy ending for Market Basket employees, customers

For many employees, the back-and-forth negotiations and false starts of the past week represented a nerve-racking turn away from the optimism that dominated earlier weeks of protests.

Claire Murphy, a cashier at a Market Basket in Billerica, drove by the grocery chain’s headquarters this morning to take in the scene. Murphy said she doesn’t want to go through anything like the recent turmoil at the company again, but added, “It was an amazing experience. We’re all so much closer now.”

The improbable success of their grassroots campaign, which included walk-outs, rallies, and more than a few online manifestos, stunned longtime observers of the grocery industry, and captured the imagination and attention of a region.

“To have an internal uprising of just about everyone, without a union, is very unusual in American industry,” said David Lewin, professor of management at the University of California Los Angeles. “And it’s even more unusual for workers to say, ‘We want this guy to come back’ — and to have him actually come back.”

While the deal is finalized, under the terms of the agreement, Arthur T. will work alongside Felicia Thornton and James Gooch, the co-chief executives who were hired by his cousin to replace him but were demonized by many employees. Arthur T. will have full operational control of the company, however.

Even though it avoided that drastic step, many challenges await the reborn company. Newly encumbered with debt, it remains an open question whether Market Basket can successfully reboot its low-margin, high-volume business model — not to mention its generous profit-sharing plan.

Governor Deval Patrick, who along with New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan brought the warring parties together in Springfield 10 days ago to broker a deal, said that early this week, “There was a point at which it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen.” Patrick said the parties held one final conference call with the governors Monday morning, when the factions insisted they could get on track, “and they did.”

“There are a lot of people in both of our states who work at Market Basket and who were at risk of losing their jobs because of the disruption in the company,” he said. “Much of that disruption seemed avoidable and resolvable. It was more complicated I think than I anticipated. But we got to a good place, and more to the point they got to a good place.”

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam. Globe correspondents Taryn Luna and William Holt contributed to this report.
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