ORONO, Maine — A business located in downtown Orono for more than 120 years will be gone by the end of the summer.
Lin White Jr., owner of Parks Hardware, announced earlier this month that the Mill Street store will close at the end of August.
“Orono is mourning,” said Hanna Van Heiningen, a Parks Hardware employee of nine years.
White said many factors went into his decision to close the store which first opened in 1892. There are six employees at the store including White, he said.
“I can see where the transition is happening,” White, 51, said on Monday. “I kind of sat down and analyzed things for years to see what the trends were.”
White said he had been monitoring customer counts, buying trends, sales averages and other statistics for the past several years.
“All of those factors played into [my decision],” he said. “It’s not a single factor, but it’s an established [downward] trend.”
Excellent customer service has been an important aspect to his business, and White didn’t want to sacrifice service in order to keep the business going.
“I want to keep the personal touch,” he said. “We’ve kind of been the go-to establishment for what people can’t find anyplace else. When you start cutting inventory and categories, it would be detrimental in the long term. I don’t want to be less than what we’ve been able to achieve.”
Parks Hardware was founded by Fred C. Parks, said White. A longtime customer and Orono Elementary School principal, Lin White Sr., bought the business in 1972. White Jr. has owned the business for the past 23 years.
White doesn’t plan on selling the business. Instead, he wants to sell off the inventory and use the revenue to renovate the building and turn it into three or four retail spaces. The building has 5,000 square feet of developable space.
The rows of inventory that feature everything from toasters to screws to toys will be sold off.
“[White’s] vision of what it would take to survive and keep going would be to convert the store into something he doesn’t want to do,” said Wade Glenn, an employee since March. “He doesn’t want to sell the soul of the store just to keep going. It’s sad because I kind of grew up in here. There’s not very many old fashioned hardware stores anymore.”
Roberta Bradson, co-owner of Ampersand, a store located across the street from Parks Hardware, said customers were stunned when they heard the news about the closing.
“Everybody that I’ve mentioned it to has had a dropped jaw. It’s been a total shock,” Bradson said. “One of them cried.”
The two stores share many customers as some will get coffee in the morning and then head over to Parks Hardware, she explained.
“It’s an anchor for downtown Orono,” she said. “We’re losing a big part of our downtown.”
White said he’s not abandoning downtown Orono. Instead, he hopes to bring more business to the area.
“By renovating the interior and exterior into multiple retail spaces, it will become an asset to downtown Orono,” said White. “I’d like to see more of a retail presence. Creating multiple retail spaces could help stimulate that development.”
Closing the store would also allow White to spend time with his four daughters ages 5, 7, 9 and 21.
“There’s less flexibility when there’s always a business to be accountable for,” he said.
Employees supported White’s decision to close.
“He’s making the decision while it’s still Parks Hardware,” said Ryan Tipping-Spitz, an employee and state representative, D-Orono. “He’s not letting it dwindle away into something we didn’t recognize.”
Nearly 35,000 items in the store are priced 20 percent off, and prices will continue to dip until the store closes at the end of August, said White.
“I think if you’re going to do something, you have to do it right and it has to be fun,” he said. “When it becomes more of a challenge than fun, it’s time to decide what the best direction is.”