TEWKSBURY (CBS/AP) — Arthur T. Demoulas triumphantly returned as Market Basket CEO Thursday, addressing workers at company headquarters in Tewksbury, saying, "it's great to be back together again."
A six-week standoff between thousands of employees of Market Basket and management ended late Wednesday night with Artie T., as he is known, back in control after buying the entire company.
"Words cannot express how much I miss you. Words cannot express how much I love you," he told loyal employees who began a revolt July 18 to demand the board of directors return him to the CEO position after he was fired in June.
"Because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose," Demoulas said in his first public appearance in years.
Demoulas said the show of support throughout the six-week showdown proved what sets Market Basket apart from other businesses.
"You, and only you, have taught the educators, you have taught the professors, the analysts and the CEOs that the work place here at Market Basket is so much more than just a job," Demoulas told the crowd.
"You are the best," Demoulas said, adding "you're one of a kind," before ending his remarks.
Watch: Arthur T. Demoulas Addresses Crowd
Tractor-trailers laden with the tons of food it will take to restock the chain's 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as vendor vehicles, pulled up to loading docks before business Thursday, just hours after the announcement that Demoulas paid $1.5 billion for shares of the company owned by the rival family faction, led by cousin Arthur S. Demoulas.
At stores across the region, workers, some of whom have gone weeks without paycheck, showed up eager for work, while customers returned even though the stores have not yet been fully stocked.
"I am thrilled!" said Shannon Mort, a cashier at the West Bridgewater store's cafe.
Store manager John Gordon, who has worked for Market Basket for 42 years, said customers were already returning.
"I knew we had loyal customers, but for them to stay away like that to support us was impressive," he said.
Watch: Customers Flock Back To Market Basket Stores, Workers Rejoice
Kim Gray, who said she's been a Market Basket customer for years but had boycotted the chain during the dispute, went to the West Bridgewater store to shop shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday after she heard that "Arthur T." had finalized a deal to buy the company.
"Market Basket is like a family. I stayed away in solidarity with the workers — my whole family did," she said. "I'm happy to be back."
The company's two current CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, will remain in place until the deal is closed, within the "next several months."
The crisis even prompted the intervention of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, both Democrats.
"We are delighted that the parties have reached agreement on terms of sale and resolution of operating authority, so that employees can return to work and customers will once again be able to rely on these stores to meet their needs," the governors said in a joint statement.
More than 160 mayors and legislators in Massachusetts and New Hampshire signed petitions agreeing to boycott Market Basket. The stores, usually jam-packed with shoppers attracted by the chain's low prices, have had only a trickle of customers for weeks.
Business analysts said the worker revolt was remarkable at a family-owned, non-union company, particularly because the workers were not seeking higher wages or better benefits, but instead were calling for the return of their CEO. The workers credit Arthur T. Demoulas for treating them like family, keeping prices low and leading the company's success.
Infighting in the Demoulas family has gone on for decades, but this was the first time the family's squabble had such a deep impact on Market Basket stores.
Market Basket stores have long been a fixture in New England. The late Arthur Demoulas, a Greek immigrant who was the grandfather of Arthur T. and Arthur S., opened the first store in Lowell nearly a century ago.
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