Farmers union to close Milo IGA

Posted Jan. 17, 2011, at 10:15 p.m.

MILO, Maine — In what some consider a bittersweet development, the Milo Farmers Union’s IGA store will close its doors next month after nearly a century in business to pave the way for a new Hannaford store.

The Milo Farmers Union will hold a three-week going-out-of-business sale starting Sunday, Jan. 23, and ending Friday, Feb. 11. As soon as the farmers union vacates its leased building, Tradewinds Supermarkets’ owner Chuck Lawrence of Blue Hill will close on the building and land.

“We hate to see the 93-year business sold for lack of having a building to continue the operation, but that’s what happened,” Eben DeWitt, the Milo Farmers Union president, said Monday.

“Nothing is forever,” he noted sadly.

Months of negotiations between the Milo Farmers Union and the Claude N. Trask Agency Inc. of Milo, the property owner and a major stockholder in the farmers union, were fruitless, according to DeWitt.

Incorporated in 1917 as part of a nationwide movement called the National Farmers Union with 235 stockholders, the farmers union operated its first store where Trask Agency is located. It later moved to 2 Park St. and in 1976 moved to 55 Park St. in a building constructed and owned by a Portland developer.

The farmers union had been operating on a 20-year lease with the Portland developer that expired in 1996, DeWitt said in November. That lease had two five-year options that were never executed because the property owner told directors not to worry about it, he said. While DeWitt said the farmers union had first refusal to pur-chase the property, he said the Portland developer later sold it to Trask Agency.

Last summer, Trask Agency offered to buy the farmers union’s inventory, fixtures and equipment for $50,000, but the offer was rejected because directors felt the price was too low, DeWitt said. The farmers union had spent more than $200,000 for equipment upgrades in recent years, he said. DeWitt said he believes the Trask Agency’s offer was sparked by conversations it had with Lawrence.

After the offer was rejected, Fred Trask of the agency resigned from the farmers union board of directors and as clerk of its corporation, and in July served an eviction notice on the farmers union’s directors, according to DeWitt. An August counteroffer by the farmers union to purchase the building and the Trask Agency’s stock was rejected by the agency, he said.

A hearing on the eviction notice was held Dec. 2 in Dover-Foxcroft District Court, and the farmers union was told that day by a judge that it had until March 15 to vacate the premises. DeWitt said the farmers union was told by Trask Agency attorney Brent Slater of Bangor that if it wanted to buy the property, it had to act fast because there was another interested buyer.

A farmers union meeting was held the next Saturday, Dec. 4, when members voted to pay the $1.3 million asking price, DeWitt said. That information was relayed to the farmers union’s attorney in an e-mail, he added. The attorney, Paul Brown of Bangor, said Monday that he extended the offer to the Trask Agency’s attorney on Dec. 6 but was told it was too late because Lawrence already had signed a purchase and sales agreement.

Both Fred Trask and Slater said Monday they had not received the offer.

“I have no recollection of any kind of a firm offer coming from them,” Slater said. “I think if they had offered that, they would have owned it by now.”

He also noted that no agreement had been made between Trask and Lawrence until after the court hearing in December.

Lawrence said he reached out to Trask about buying the Milo property because he liked the community and the location of the building. He declined to release the purchase price. He operates Tradewinds Supermarkets in Blue Hill and Eddington and was a former co-owner of the Corinth supermarket.

The immediate differences residents will see in his store are pricing and a more modern facility, Lawrence said.

“I am excited to be able to bring better pricing to Milo,” he said Sunday. “Anytime you can keep people in town, then you help other [local] businesses.”

The store likely will be closed for about a month for interior renovations and modernization, according to Lawrence. During that time a van and driver will be offered a couple of days a week to ferry residents to and from the Hannaford store in Dover-Foxcroft, he said. A planned 3,000-square-foot addition will come later.

Lawrence said he will keep on as many of the IGA employees as possible and that more jobs will be added after the addition.

“I would think we’re probably going to add somewhere between 10 and 15 jobs above what the Milo Farmers Union has now. Somewhere between 45 and 50 jobs is what I believe will shake out,” he said.

The Dollar Store located on the property will remain because it has a long-term lease, Lawrence said.

The sale leaves the Milo Farmers Union, the town’s oldest continuing business, with no other location at which to carry on, according to DeWitt, whose relatives have been involved in it since the 1930s.

“We have had lots of town support to keep the business open, but unfortunately we didn’t have a lease,” DeWitt said. He noted that the farmers union had considered building a new grocery store elsewhere but decided it would be cost-prohibitive.

DeWitt extended his thanks to the community and the board of directors for their support over the years.

The entire inventory in the store will be sold and once all the bills are paid, the union will be dissolved.

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