A town in transition

Posted Jan. 23, 2009, at 10:38 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:07 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Richard Harmon’s doors are about to open. Michele Osborne’s will close today.

Though they are on opposite ends of the economic spectrum, the Millinocket residents have the same hope: that the town and Katahdin region economies will improve. They are among several business owners whose establishments are about to close or open due to, or in spite of, the temporary shutdown of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill and the national recession, they said.

“There’s no money coming into this town. It’s the economy,” Osborne, co-owner of Lupine’s, a Balsam Drive gift shop, said Wednesday. “That’s really the only reason we are closing.”

Due to open his Mooseshed Lodge on Bates Street by the first week of February, Harmon said he’s picking a peak time to start his business: the height of snowmobile season, as the Katahdin region offers some of the nation’s finest snowmobiling.

A former restaurant, the Mooseshed will sleep 10 to 12 — it has eight bunk beds and a queen-sized bed — in a cozy atmosphere. The lodge has a full kitchen, large-screen television and pool table for $45 per person — convenient for hunters and snowmobilers, as it is less than a quarter mile from ITS 86.

“If you look around the area, there are plenty of hotels, but there aren’t any sportsmen’s lodges,” Harmon said. “This will really be the only one.”

Among the businesses also closed are the Millinocket Army Navy Store and Downtown Restaurant on Penobscot Avenue. G&G Marketing LLC apparently shut down its Spring Street call center in December.

Other businesses, such as the Subway restaurant off Central Avenue and the Hotel Terrace Restaurant and Lounge on Medway Road, have changed owners. Subway stayed open, but the Hotel Terrace was closed for several months.

It reopened Monday and has been doing healthy business. Its new owner, Ruth Leet, ran Ruthie’s, a Medway restaurant, for several years and is a very good, experienced restaurateur, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.

The paper mill shut down in early September, laying off about 207 workers, but its impact is only now being felt. As they winterized and mothballed the mill, company officials only gradually let go of their work force, and many town workers found employment at the East Millinocket paper mill.

Still, no one is eager to spend money, Osborne said.

“People are spending on the necessities of life right now — mortgages, fuel, food, heating oil,” she said. “They don’t have the extra for their gift giving. They are being much more careful decorating their homes, so they are not spending as much here.”

Osborne, 43, and business partner Lori Bouchard opened Lupine’s five years ago, after the Katahdin Avenue mill’s first shutdown. They figured that if they could survive their first year after a mill shutdown, they would make money when the economy improved, Osborne said.

The mill reopened a year later, but their fortunes continued to flag, Osborne said. Also, Bouchard’s husband, a millworker, was laid off, and her family needs more income than the gift shop provided.

When news of Lupine’s closing circulated, two stores — Memories of Maine and the Wreath Factory — offered to rent space to Lupine’s to keep the store going, but the kind gestures came too late, Osborne said.

Harmon, who is finishing the renovation of the former restaurant, said the lodge will be the building’s first use since the restaurant closed in 1994.

He said he can’t wait to get his doors open, predicting that the lodge will be a strong year-round draw for fishermen, hunters and other sportsmen, plus get use as a meeting and cookout place.

“I have owned this building for more than 10 years and I have never made a dime on it,” Harmon said.

Osborne, meanwhile, is thankful for her customers’ support but figures she is getting out of business just in time.

“If we just close now, Lori and I figure we will just about break even,” Osborne said.

nsambides@bangordailynews.net

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