Thousands of Market Basket employees, customers, and supporters descended upon the Tewksbury, Mass. store and corporate headquarters in what is now the start of the third week of protests.

Police on site estimated as many as 5,000 to 6,000 people had gathered as of 11 AM Tuesday morning. Rally organizers had been hoping for crowds as big as 15,000, but the heat proved to be a major deterrent.

Market Basket employees and customers carried signs and banners throughout the packed parking lot demanding the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas, the recently ousted former CEO of Market Basket. Many supporters wore custom t-shirts in the style of the Market Basket logo bearing slogans such as “Bring Back Artie T.” and “Market Basket Strong.”

Steve Paulenka, a facilities and operations manager who was fired on July 20th for his role in the first Market Basket protest, led today’s rally. “Never underestimate the power of two million customers,” he said to a fired-up crowd, noting that Market Basket sales are down 90% this week because of the ongoing customer boycott.

Speaking of Market Basket board member Arthur S. Demoulas, Arthur T.’s cousin and who is at the center of the bitter family feud ripping apart the grocery chain, Paulenka had this to add: “Arthur S. bit the hand that feeds his company. We bit back. The customers bit back. We bit them where it hurts the most – we’ve bit into their profits.”

Several local media vans could be found parked along the perimeter of the rally, as well as about two dozen Tewksbury police officers performing crowd control. There were also a half dozen ambulances on hand due to the excessive midday heat. Temperatures in Tewksbury climbed close to 90 degrees with a virtually no cloud cover. Many protesters huddled under trees and pop-up tents in the blazing sun.

Paul Gauthier, a Market Basket store director and 44-year veteran of the grocery chain, noted that no matter how long this goes on, he’ll be out here protesting. His sentiments echo those of thousands  of current and former Market Basket employees.

Gautier added, “We will keep rallying until we get Artie T. back.”

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of this story as it unfolds.

Photo credit: Keiko Zoll.