By Jonathan Phelps
---- — DANVERS — Alex Butler stood outside Market Basket yesterday collecting signatures in support of company CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, whose job appears to be in jeopardy in a feud over control of the popular family-owned supermarket chain.
A “Save our Market Basket” sign sat near the customer service desk, where more signatures were being collected.
On Thursday, the board of directors of Demoulas Supermarkets will meet and is expected to vote on ousting Demoulas and replacing him with his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.
For years, the Demoulas family has wrangled over what has grown into a 71-store grocery chain, which has roots in Lowell but has expanded across Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Arthur T. Demoulas has served as CEO since 2008. Arthur S. Demoulas and other members of his side of the family allege that Arthur T. has mismanaged the company and ignored instructions from the board, according to various reports. Arthur T., meanwhile, has maintained that he has managed the company in a way that benefits customers and employees, as well as the owners.
Butler, who has worked at the store for more than two years, is one of many employees worried that the feud could result in increased food prices, job cuts and the possible loss of benefits and bonuses. As she collected signatures, she stood next to a sign that read: “We Support Artie T. He is the Best.”
“It will be sad to see people lose their jobs and see things change,” she said. “People like it the way it is.”
Butler and other employees volunteered their time to collect signatures yesterday.
“There are a lot of great people working for this company,” she said. “And they’ve really taken care of me.”
Peabody resident George Hoffman, a longtime Market Basket customer, signed the petition as he left the store yesterday morning. He’s been shopping at the Danvers location for 13 years.
“I don’t want to see any changes,” he said. “Everything is just cheaper, and they treat you much better. There is no comparison.”
Similar petitions are being circulated at the Salem and Middleton stores. An online “Save Market Basket” campaign has already garnered nearly 39,000 signatures.
Brian Rockwell, store manager in Danvers, said he was surprised by the number of signatures being collected. By Monday, there were nearly 1,000 at the Danvers store alone.
He said employees are concerned about changes to health care benefits, profit sharing and bonuses.
“Mr. Demoulas has been so good to his employees,” Rockwell said. “So, when the news came out, they wanted to do something.”
Customers are mostly concerned about increased pricing, Rockwell said.
“That is Mr. Demoulas’ prerogative, to know what competitors’ prices are,” he said. “His big thing is value to our customers and lower prices.”
Jerry Cole of Salem said he shops at Market Basket because “the price is right.”
“If they raise the prices, the shoppers will leave in a minute,” he said. “They will go somewhere else.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN. Staff writer Brian Messenger of the Eagle-Tribune contributed to this report.