Agreement to buy out rival family faction returns "Artie T." to authority on interim basis.
Arthur T. Demoulas — and hundreds of Market Basket workers — said they would return to work Thursday following the announcement that Demoulas had reached a binding agreement to buy the shares in Demoulas Super Markets owned by a rival family faction.
The deal, reached late Wednesday, will reinstate Demoulas in a consultant role with authority to run the company while the deal closes over the coming months. His firing in late June set off worker walkoffs and an associated customer boycott that has lasted for nearly six weeks and cost the company millions in sales. Current co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch will remain in their roles pending the closing, a spokeswoman for Demoulas said.
Board chairman Keith O. Cowan in a statement confirmed the deal and credited contributions of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Hampshire counterpart Maggie Hassan for working "tirelessly and creatively to help shareholders find solutions that brought them together to reach agreement.
"The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New Hampshire should understand that the Governors' commitment and engagement made a significant difference," Cowan continued. "The beneficiaries of their efforts are the 25,000 associates of Market Basket, its 2 million customers and all of the communities it serves."
Several local news outlets, citing anonymous sources, reported that Arthur T. Demoulas and members of his family had agreed to pay at least $1.5 billion for the 50.5% of the shares in the company owned by "Class A" shareholders led by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. The offer reportedly includes a $500 million contribution from a private equity firm and debt secured by company real estate holdings. SN could not immediately confirm those details.
Workers who organized in a group known as "We Are Market Basket" in a statement late Wednesday called the deal "the most improbable of upsets." Members of that group including warehouse workers, truck drivers and head-office employees walked off their jobs nearly six weeks ago when their demand for the immediate reinstatement of Demoulas to his previous role was not immediately met.
Demoulas several weeks ago declined an offer from the company's independent directors to return to an administrative role, saying he did not trust the directors not to sell the company to another party once he'd stabilized it. Shareholders reportedly were entertaining multiple offers including one from Delhaize's Hannaford chain, a local competitor. Hannaford declined to confirm that, however.
Market Basket, a high-volume price operator generating more than $4 billion in sales from just 71 stores in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, has lost millions since the walkoffs began in mid-July, with some competitors seeing stores more than double their sales. It will need to re-establish relationships with vendors, replenish store and warehouse inventories and in some cases re-hire or replace store-level employees who defected to other jobs amid a dearth of work during the crisis.
Market Basket will also evidently be operating for the first time in years with debts to service, which could slow its recent growth pace or affect pricing, sources said. The company's debt levels were among several longstanding bones of contention between Arthur T. Demoulas and the board of directors.
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