Marden’s reluctant to be yardstick for state closures

Posted Feb. 02, 2011, at 6:17 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 6:07 p.m.

When the snow flies, workers at Marden’s Surplus & Salvage get a bit busier.

It’s not just shoppers looking for inexpensive snow shovels, mittens or bonnets that contribute to the bustle. It’s also folks calling in to see if the stores plan on shutting down because of the weather.

Gov. Paul LePage’s spokesman noted several weeks ago on the topic of winter snowstorms and state government closures that “the rule of thumb is: If Marden’s is open, Maine is open.”

The governor worked for Marden’s for 14 years, resigning as the general manager of the chain after he was elected last November. Dan Demeritt, his spokesman, later noted that the general sentiment was that the LePage administration would take its cue from the private sector in general as to the status of state government and weather-related shut-downs.

But it’s the Marden’s statement that stuck — as Marden’s goes, so goes Maine.

So, like it or not, Marden’s has become the de facto yardstick by which Maine’s snowstorms are measured and an indicator as to whether state government remains open or closes because of the weather.

“It’s a spotlight we prefer not to be in,” said Ham Marden, president of the popular 14-store chain.

Marden said he didn’t have the figures in front of him, but he thought the company’s numbers of Facebook fans and Twitter followers took a slight jump after that comment hit the press. On Tuesday, Marden’s had 9,292 fans on Facebook and 1,054 followers on Twitter.

Managers and salaried employees are expected to try to get to the stores if they can during a storm, said Marden. As for hourly employees, no one is forced to come in, he said. If they can make it in safely, they should. If not, they can take the day off.

If enough employees don’t make it in, the store manager closes the business — it’s essentially a staffing issue, said Marden.

The snowy sentiment out of the governor’s office hasn’t changed the store’s policies one way or the other, said Marden.

“We’re just chugging along, doing what we always do — answering the phone,” he said.

But it has changed the tenor of comments on the company’s Facebook page. When it was announced at noon Tuesday that the Scarborough store closed at 11 a.m. because of the storm, 23 comments followed. Many were political, leading Marden’s to comment: “We will not be commenting on any closings other than those of our stores that may close due to weather. We very much appreciate that our Facebook fans take the time to comment on our posts. It’s a great way to stay connected even with inclement weather covering much of the state. We also would like to thank all state employees who come to work every day to ensure that the work of state government is done and done well. Their efforts are very much appreciated.”

It was also announced about the same time that state government would shut down at noon.

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