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Governors optimistic sale to resolve New England supermarket dispute will come soon

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BOSTON - The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire said Friday they were optimistic the long-running family dispute that has hobbled the Market Basket supermarket chain will be resolved, perhaps as soon as this weekend, with an agreement to sell it to its ousted CEO.

In a statement issued late Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan said they expect the company will restore Arthur T. Demoulas to "operating authority" on an interim basis, pending completion of the sale.

The governors, who said they had been briefed by all parties involved in the dispute, were hopeful employees will return to work and stores will resume regular operations early next week. They added that the company's board of directors had agreed to "forestall taking adverse employment action" against employees who left their jobs in protest of Demoulas' ouster.

The popular CEO was fired by a board of directors controlled by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas. It was the culmination of a family feud that has divided the Tewksbury-based chain for decades.

Arthur T. Demoulas said Friday he had submitted his final bid to buy out his rivals' share in the New England company on Thursday.

"The bid remains at full price and its terms are extremely favourable to the sellers," he said in a statement. "There is nothing that stands in the way of getting this done this weekend."

Company officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last week, Patrick and Hassan, both Democrats, made the unusual move of personally stepping into negotiations as the standoff threatened the future of the popular, low-cost supermarket chain. Both governors have remained in close contact with all parties in the dispute through the week.

Market Basket, founded by the late Arthur Demoulas, a Greek immigrant, started with one store nearly a century ago. Today the company has about 25,000 employees and 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers refused to deliver food to the chain's stores in protest, leading to empty shelves and millions of dollars in lost revenue for the company. Customers supported the employees by boycotting stores, and more than 160 mayors and legislators in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were among the thousands of people who signed petitions supporting the boycott.

Business analysts said the worker revolt was remarkable, particularly because workers at the family-owned, non-union company were not seeking higher wages or better benefits but calling for the return of their CEO.

At a Market Basket store in Sagamore, assistant grocery manager Bryan DeMedeiros said he hoped a resolution was imminent.

On most Friday nights in August, his store, at the top of Cape Cod, is jammed with tourists stocking up for the weekend. Instead, just a few cars were parked outside.

"It's pretty sad," he said. "We're losing so much money."

___

Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg and Denise Lavoie in Boston and Bill Kole in Sagamore contributed to this report.

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