LINCOLN, Maine — The unemployment rate is 9.2 percent nationally, 7.4 percent statewide and 11.1 percent in the Lincoln Lakes region. The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s just lowered the nation’s AAA credit rating for the first time in history, causing stock markets worldwide to tumble, and Larry Smart is expanding his Smart’s True Value Hardware store.
The expansion, Smart said, is basic economics.
“We’re hoping, and all the retail [experts] tell you, that you should try to increase your market share in bad times,” Smart said Tuesday, “so that when business does improve, you can really do well.”
The theory is based on the idea that businesses that can survive hard times, when other businesses lose market share or decrease the services or goods they provide, flourish in good times.
Smart said he hopes that will happen with the 3,400-square-foot annex he opened late last month at a former bank and Health Access Network office at 51 Main St. That’s a few doors down from his 4,400-square-foot store at 43 Main St.
The new site carries sporting and camping goods, lawn furniture, small appliances and coal, pellet and wood stoves, among other things, Smart said.
“It has a lot of things that we could not have here due to space restrictions,” Smart said. “Lawn furniture takes up so much room that we can’t have it” in the old location.
The new store averages about 20 customers a day, an encouraging start, said Hokan Okeson, a 40-year-old Lee man who works as a clerk in the annex.
“A lot of people think of Smart’s as just a hardware store, and it’s a lot more than that,” Okeson said.
The hardware market is especially competitive in Lincoln. Besides Smart’s, the town has Aubuchon Hardware, Haskell Lumber, Benjamin Tibbetts Inc. and a Sears Hometown store that all carry hardware and related goods. So does the Walmart on West Broadway and a Marden’s store across the street from Smart’s.
Smart thinks he can make the expansion work by using his new space wisely and stocking it with items that the other stores don’t necessarily carry, such as marine goods like dock flotation hardware and towables. Kayak paddles, which no one sells in Lincoln, might also become available eventually, he said.
Walmart expanded significantly in 2009, but the expansion also gave way to something of a shift in its offerings, with that store adding more food isles and cutting back on some of its hardware and housewares, Smart said.
Smart chose the bank location, which is owned by his businesses’ co-owner, Sterling “Boody” Osgood, after an accident flooded the office and was remodeled. With the office equipment gone, the move made sense, Smart said, especially since the Steaks ‘N Stuff expansion last year has increased traffic on his parking lot.
“We actually have a pretty well-rounded retail market here,” Smart said. “You can stop downtown and get a lot done.”
The annex is about 60 percent full, Okeson said. More goods will be added as Smart finds new vendors, he said.