TEWKSBURY, Mass. -- With Market Basket expected to finalize its sale of the company to Arthur T. Demoulas imminently, many employees are anxiously waiting to return to work. With that will come, however, a new unknown: How do you get the stores back to normal?
Some workers are feeling bullish, saying it would take only a few days to restock the shelves. Others aren't so sure.
"We have no idea what it would take" to restock the shelves, said Steve Johnson, a cashier at Market Basket's Chelmsford store.
The supermarket chain has never had to refill its warehouse with fresh produce from scratch before.
Workers all agree that once Demoulas, the CEO ousted by the grocery chain's board of directors in June, regains control of the company, they will hit the ground running to prepare the stores for the return of customers.
More than five weeks ago, a majority of Market Basket shoppers joined with the employees in protesting the board's decision to fire Demoulas by boycotting the supermarket's 71 stores. Truck drivers and warehouse workers stopped deliveries to the stores, leaving the produce sections bare.
Stores currently carry no fresh vegetables or meat. Bakery departments are shut down. On the bread shelves, a smaller-than-usual selection of Market Basket brand breads are the only products that can be found.
There are also no fresh-cut flowers coming in, said Ana Gonzalez, head cashier at the Lowell store on Bridge Street.
Gonzalez said refilling the shelves is a matter of having the warehouse restocked. The produce department normally receives new deliveries every two days. Gonzalez said she believes produce from local farms should start coming in sooner than some other items that need to be trucked a long distance. She estimated it would take about two weeks for the store to be fully restocked.
"As soon as we hear something, we will be up and running," Gonzalez said.
Those who work at the store at Stadium Plaza in Tewksbury believe they could get ready sooner than that. Conor Keity, a 9-year employee in the bakery department, said many workers are "ready to be on call and come back overnight" to bake once they receive news that Arthur T. is coming back. They could bake enough overnight to keep the bakery open the next day, Keity said, although it would require much more to fully restock the backup items.
Johnson also said the store would arrange overnight crews if necessary. Because he doesn't know how quickly the warehouse will be restocked, however, it's not clear whether it would make sense to have overnight workers at the store, he said.
Some former Market Basket customers who have sworn to boycott the chain said they will come back to shop at the stores just as quickly as employees return to work.
Jeanne Corcoran of Chelmsford said she hasn't shopped at Market Basket because she wants to support the employees.
"It's like crossing a picket line, and I couldn't do that," Corcoran said of entering Market Basket.
Talitha Rollins of Lowell said she even felt bad about driving into the East Gate Plaza in Chelmsford -- which is home to a Market Basket store across the street from a Stop & Shop supermarket -- to shop at another store at the plaza Sunday.
Phil Mulno of Dracut said his two children used to work for Market Basket and it's been good for them to see their former bosses rallying on the street alongside cashiers.
"It's nice to see that kind of family environment," Mulno said.
Jessica and Robert Moores of Chelmsford said, however, that they aren't sure whether they will return to Market Basket because shopping at the Stop & Shop store has been "OK."
"We are torn," Jessica Moores said, adding that she will go back if Market Basket keeps its reputation as a business that cares about customers.