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Bankruptcy filing holds off Moosehead Furniture auction

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
Auctioneer Steven Keenan, center, talks with hopeful bidders at a Moosehead Furniture warehouse in Monson on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 after the planned auction was cancelled due to Moosehead Furniture filing for bankruptcy. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

MONSON, Maine — A glimmer of hope was given to this town Thursday when the owners of Moosehead Furniture Co. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings just minutes before an auction was to be held to liquidate the assets.

But that glimmer came at the expense of more than 200 people from across the country who made the trek to Monson hoping to take home a piece of local history or to bag a bargain at the auction. The parking lot was loaded with pickup trucks, some of which towed long trailers.

Chuck Lapinski of Tennessee was not a happy man. “I came up last week from Tennessee to look at the equipment, and then I drove to New York and flew into Bangor today to bid on the whole sawmill — the carriage mill,” Lapinski of LPS Equipment of Tennessee said Thursday. “I bet I’ve spent $5,000 on this,” he grumbled after the announcement was made. He said his company purchases and resells sawmill equipment, and he already had commitments to buy the equipment from the carriage mill.

The announcement dashed his plans for a piece of the action, for now.

Steve Keenan of Keenan Auction Co. of South Portland, who received the Chapter 11 announcement through a telephone call, said it is now up to the owners to file a reorganization plan. Should that plan fail, he told the auction-goers, then another auction likely will be held at a future date to liquidate the assets.

Owners Joshua Tardy, a lawyer and the Maine House minority leader, and Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and former Department of Transportation commissioner, along with Rhode Island financier Ed Skovron, purchased the company in September 2007 when the former owners intended to close the business for good.

John Wentworth, president of the former Moosehead Manufacturing Co., which had been in operation under the Wentworth-Durham families for 60 years, said earlier the decision to close the business was in part because of competition from low-priced furniture imported from foreign countries such as China, Mexico and Brazil. About 125 employees lost their jobs when the mill closed under his family’s operation.

Hoping to revive the well-known furniture business under a new name of Moosehead Furniture, Tardy and Connors secured enough funds for its purchase, but months later found they did not have the capital to weather the poor economy. They too shut the doors, sending about 30 employees back on the unemployment ranks.

When that was done, Machias Savings Bank, the primary lender of the corporation, placed the property and equipment up for auction.

Domestic furniture manufacturers have had a really tough go of it, in particular in the past 24 months, Tardy said earlier this month. “Not that they haven’t had a tough go in the past decade, but it’s been an extraordinary downturn in domestic furniture consumption [in the past 24 months],” he said.

Tardy, who did not attend the auction and did not return telephone calls Thursday, said earlier this month that he and his partners had hoped to find an investor to stave off the auction, and apparently they were successful.

For many locals, the announcement meant the company bought a little more time.

Had the equipment been sold, no one would ever come back and reopen a mill in Monson despite the skilled labor force, according to Wentworth.

Wentworth, who had arrived early for the auction like others who milled about the property, said he felt drawn to what he thought would be the final chapter of the town’s historical icon. The town was known worldwide for the Moosehead Furniture it produced and the skilled workers who hand-crafted the items, he noted.

The mill has such a history with the town that Wentworth said he could almost see the imaginary shadows of long departed workers standing in the corners watching the proceedings.

Susan Deloia of Monson, who had worked 21 years in human resources at the plant, stood around with other former workers, including Tammy Kelley and Matt Gerrish, waiting for the auction to start. “It feels like crap,” Gerrish said of the intended sale. Gerrish, Deloia and Kelley said they are still unemployed.

Losing Moosehead Manufacturing Co. was like losing a relative, Collin Bickford, who worked 40 years in shipping, said Thursday. He said most of his family had worked at the business, including his late father, Ivory Bickford, who began the second year the business was open.

Monson Town Manager Julie Anderson, who did not attend the auction, said the town is in a wait-and-see mode with the new development. The company has been a big contributor to the town over the years, and she said she hoped to see that relationship continue somehow.

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