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Friends help man rebuild Corinna auto shop that burned to the ground

Alex Barber | BDN
Alex Barber | BDN
A construction worker stands on the roof of the new building of Southern Auto in Corinna, Maine on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Owner Toby Gould said his business will reopen in a couple weeks after a fire burned the previous building to the ground on Sept. 21, 2011.
By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

CORINNA, Maine — Nearly four months after his auto repair shop burned to the ground, Toby Gould is about ready to get back to work.

“Four months — it feels like four years,” Southern Auto owner Gould said Monday as he looked at his new building being constructed. He said he should be open in two weeks.

Last September, a fast-moving fire burned his previous business to the ground. Five customer cars also were destroyed.

“They never did determine the cause. It burned too hot,” he said. “All they can think of was a car sitting on a battery charger may have sparked it.”

Gould, 37, said he got a call from his wife about his dog breaking loose from his leash before the fire.

“I wasn’t home but 10 minutes before one of my customers called me and said there was a fire,” said Gould, who added that he lives only four miles away in Dexter.

The garage was a complete loss, “a pile of rubble,” he said. Luckily, he was insured.

“It was barely enough to cover the mortgage, but not enough to cover the contents,” said Gould.

Gould said he bought the business from Richard Seamans 10 months before the fire. Gould previously had worked for Seamans at the garage.

“He was awesome. He actually loaned me the money to rebuild,” said Gould.

Seamans, who is in Florida for the winter, said he was happy to help.

“I just told him I would help him,” said Seamans.

Gould said he also received help from area businesses and some old friends.

“I got a couple of friends from high school who own a couple of small contracting companies and they’re helping me to rebuild,” said Gould.

The new building is roughly the same size as the previous building, but now has a third bay.

“They’re sheeting the walls inside right now. We’re going to put the doors on tomorrow. A couple guys are doing the roofing and finishing up the siding. We’re all wired up. Almost there,” said Gould.

The only thing that was salvaged from the fire was a small, unattached building.

“One side is burned. It’s pretty rough,” he said. “We’re kind of undecided if we’re going to refinish it for storage or attach it to the building and use it as an office.”

While he waited for his insurance settlement, Gould said he wondered what his next move would be.

Would he give up on owning his business and try something else?

“I thought about it. A lot. I really did,” he said. “I had a few people try to buy the lot after [the fire]. But it’s all I’ve ever done, for 20 years.

“If I didn’t didn’t rebuild this place, I would’ve gone to work for somebody else, but that’s kind of pointless.”

Seamans was confident Gould would land on his feet.

“He’s a good businessman. He had a lot of business and had them backed up,” said Seamans.

Even though Gould wasn’t open for business for four months, customers stayed loyal to him.

“Every day somebody’s calling,” said Gould, who works in the business alone except for a part-time bookkeeper. “We should be good. I have a bunch of work lined up. As soon as we open the doors, I’ve got work.”

Gould said a few customers have left vehicles on his property to be worked on when he is open again.

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