For the first time in the ongoing struggle for the future of Market Basket, the new co-CEOs have set a firm deadline for employees to return to work: Monday, August 4. And for those who don't return, the company says it will run advertisements for employment opportunities.

There's still no word on whether the company's board of directors will recommend selling to ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

Meanwhile, the grocery store's employees continue in limbo and wonder about their future. Workers may have to make their own decision soon.

Waiting is tough. And waiting to hear about a job is really tough.

"The waiting's not easy," said Tom Gordon, who was fired more than a week ago now. "We're so used to working six days a week, 5:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night. It's been a little tedious hanging around."

Gordon is hoping to be reinstated when the Market Basket board of directors accepts Arthur T.'s offer to buy the company. But, despite losing millions of dollars in business, the board hasn't made a recommendation to shareholders. Another fired employee, Tom Trainor, says that probably means the board doesn't want to accept Arthur T.'s offer.

"They're just ignoring the 25,000 employees and the 2 million customers that are speaking," Trainor said.

Workers are dealing with the wait by turning the protest outside the company's Tewksbury's headquarters into a party, complete with grilling and loud music. But there's a tense undertone — store managers have upped the ante by vowing to quit if Arthur T.'s offer isn't accepted. Now other employees are asking themselves: Will I quit if the board doesn't sell to Arthur T.?

Tom Trainor says most of them are answering, "Yes."

"I can't speak for everybody, but I'd say yeah, a good number of them probably would," he said.

The question is making Denise Moulton "sick," she said. "I miss Market Basket!"

Moulton says she doesn't dwell on the question. Instead she focuses on hoping the board will see past any grudges it's holding.

"I've been praying every night for that," Moulton said. "We've gotta get Artie T. back, or Market Basket will not survive."

But if employees are upping the ante, it seems so are Market Basket CEOs Felicia Thorton and James Gooch. They've set Monday as a deadline for employees to return. And for those who don't, the CEOs hint at repercussions.

"We understand that some associates may choose not to return, consequently we will begin advertising for employment opportunities," the CEOs said in a statement.

Thorton and Gooch did reiterate that they hoped employees would return, and those employees wouldn't be penalized.

The CEOs must want to get things back to normal quickly. Industry experts say they don't have much time before customers learn to stay away from Market Basket for good. At the Market Basket on Main Street in Tewksbury, the windows are nearly covered with receipts from other stores that customers have taped to the glass. Walking by with her dog, Robin Gavin says after 40 years shopping at Market Basket, she's now going to a Hannaford grocery store.

"But I come back and bring the receipt here," Gavin said.

The number of picketers here has dwindled to about a dozen. The store's baker, Tony Tridenti, says he's decided he'll quit with store managers if the board doesn't accept Arthur T.'s offer. And until then, he'll help protestors sustain their momentum.

"We're showing him that we're for him, not for them," he said. "You know what I'm saying? We're behind him, not them. And I'd do it over and over again. Because he is a gentleman, and we all love him."

But, Tridenti admits, the waiting is tough.