FORT KENT, Maine — The owner of the local Ford dealership this week announced his plans to purchase Fort Kent-based GM dealership Valley Auto in a deal expected to close by the middle of this month.
Valley Auto has been operating out of several temporary locations around the area ever since a fire destroyed the company’s buildings last October.
Thanks to the efforts of employees and hundreds of community members, the bulk of the dealership’s inventory and files were saved from the fire, allowing owner Carl Theriault to re-open for business the next day.
“My goal was to always keep the business in town,” Steve Pelletier, owner of Pelletier Ford, said Friday of Valley Auto. “I was a bit concerned after the fire that may not happen, [so] I approached Carl and we started talking about my purchasing his business.”
Pelletier took over the Ford dealership two years ago when it was known as Martin Ford, after spending many years in the forest products industry.
“I really enjoy this business,” he said. “I feel I have the competent people and place to now expand.”
In addition to continuing to provide two auto manufacturer’s products in town, the move secures the jobs for at least 20 workers at Valley Auto.
“My number one goal all along was to keep jobs in this town,” Theriault said on Friday. “The day I saw the faces of my employees after the fire, I told myself ‘Whatever happens, my people will work.’”
There are more than 40 employees between the two dealerships, and Pelletier said he is looking to add several more.
Pelletier said he plans to change the GM dealership’s name to Valley Motors and bring the business back to its pre-fire Main Street location by the end of this month.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “By far this is not a turnkey operation [and] some days I wonder what I have gotten myself into, but it is all for the good of the town.”
As part of the move, Pelletier will be taking over a building currently leased by Northern Maine Medical Center and owned by his parents James and Rena Pelletier.
The structure was adjacent to the car lot, but sustained only minor damage during the fire, according to Joan Fortin, NMMC director of service excellence and communications.
The hospital currently uses the space for a wellness gymnasium and several nursing support offices, she said.
“We are hoping to collaborate with a Fort Kent business to make a partnership with the wellness center,” Fortin said. “We are going to spend the summer working out those details.”
The nursing offices, she said, will relocate to existing NMMC space.
Rebuilding on that lot could not take place, Pelletier said, had not the citizens of Fort Kent voted
in November to close down a portion of Elm Street which bisected the Valley Auto lot.
Discontinuing Elm Street from its intersection with Page Avenue to the western border of the dealership’s property adds an additional 16,000-square-feet to the parcel and will allow for construction in the middle of the expanded lot with more efficient use of space.
When a road is discontinued, ownership of that land reverts to its abutters which, in November, was Carl Theriault.
On Friday, Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond said the road closure is still in effect, but the town council will be revisiting the issue in the wake of the dealership changing hands and Pelletier becoming the abutter.
“We will be looking at the plans and I suspect [Elm Street] will remain closed,” he said. “But that is not my decision, it will be reviewed by the town council.”
The road closure is crucial to the new dealership, according to Pelletier.
“There would be no room to build a new shop without that space,” he said.
General Motors did have to agree to the sale and Theriault said that was about a four-month process.
“Steve [Pelletier] is buying a healthy business,” Theriault said.
“The people have been great and they definitely want to see this business back on Main Street,” he said. “I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart — from the community who supported us to the employees who pulled together and worked really hard.”
Had the deal not gone through, Theriault said, he would have continued with plans to rebuild and re-open on the Main Street lot.
As for his future plans now, the 57-year-old Theriault, a former economic development director, is not ready to speculate publicly.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next,” he said. “But I am not ready to sit still.”