EPPING — The signs said it all.
"Keep Calm and Artie Strong," read one sign.
"Save Arthur T. Demoulas" said another.
Holding their signs for all customers and passing motorists to see, more than 70 employees, their families and others gathered for a rally outside the Epping Market Basket Tuesday night to show support for Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, whose leadership is being threatened by a family feud.
"With all the corporate greed out there today, Mr. Arthur T. Demoulas is one of the few leaders out there that actually gives back to us, his people, all the way down to the stackers, to his managers, to the customers. He's always thinking about everybody else," said Epping store manager Cindy Whelan.
Rallies were held at other Market Basket locations as well, including a store in Warner where about 20 people had shown up by 6 p.m., many holding similar signs of support. Customers also signed a petition encouraging the company's board of directors to keep Arthur T. Demoulas on as CEO when they decide whether to oust him at a meeting Thursday.
"We had signs made up today and people are signing the petition," said Elaina Corey, office manager for the Warner store.
Many employees and customers fear a leadership change will shake up the company and lead to job losses and higher prices, while allowing shareholders to realize bigger returns.
Employees and managers took out a full page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader urging the board of directors not to fire Arthur T. Demoulas.
"Think of the people and communities first, not the shareholders' pockets. Respect your fiduciary duty and responsibilities," the ad read.
By early Tuesday evening, nearly 40,000 people had signed an online petition to save Arthur T. Demoulas's job. Tens of thousands more had signed petitions outside Market Baskets in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The signers were people like Mark Davidson, who was 15 ½ when he got his first job 40 years ago as a Market Basket floor sweeper and grocery bagger.
He worked at the supermarket for just two years, but it was long enough for him to earn the money he needed for a trip to Europe. It was also enough time for him to learn the importance of a locally-owned family business that cares about its workers and customers. Davidson signed the petition at the Epping store moments before Dr. Jerry Scolamiero of Exeter showed up and signed without hesitation.
"It's the prices. It's the quality of the people who work here. I know the managers. The owner of the company cares about his employees, and more importantly, he cares about middle income people throughout New England. If not for Market Basket, I could not have fed my family and I'm not alone," said Scolamiero, a loyal Market Basket shopper for the past 35 years.
Walter O'Brien, assistant store manager in Epping, has been with the company for 32 years; his wife, Kim, is an assistant store manager in Hooksett has been employed for 23 years.
"My biggest fear is that there's going to be job loss and the growth of the company is going to be slowed down. Employees are nervous about their jobs. They all want to show their support for Arthur T. Demoulas. The guy is a great man. The several times I've talked to him he's always treated me with respect," Walter O'Brien said.
Epping Market Basket meat manager Dave Dimartino, a 17-year employee, said employees are on a "first name basis" with Arthur T. Demoulas. "Mr. D has been a great leader," he said. "It's not always about business."
Nick Wright, manager of Market's Kitchen at the Epping store, agreed."I'm proud to say I work for a family company. It's like an extended family," he said.