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UNION, Maine ― The owners of Castle Builders Inc. and Union Agway closed their businesses last week without notice, leaving employees without jobs, projects unfinished and customers wondering where their money went.
“I’m not sure if [the situation] is malicious or really bad business practice, but the fact remains that he pulled one over on a lot of people,” said Regina Rooney of Hope, who had paid Castle Builders a $2,700 deposit for a roofing project that was never started.
Malcolm and Elizabeth Stewart purchased Union Agway in 2017 from longtime owner Ron Hawes. After purchasing the business, they opened Castle Builders next door, offering small-scale construction and renovation services.
But on Monday, Sept. 9, neither Union Agway or Castle Builders opened for business and no one has heard from the Stewarts since.
“I have sent them text messages. I have tried to get in contact, but I get no reply at all,” Hawes, who leased the building to the Stewarts, said Wednesday.
Hawes opened Union Agway in 1985 and stayed on at the business after the sale in a supportive role through this summer when he took a step back. He said the Stewarts were having financial difficulties, but declined to elaborate on the extent, other than adding they hadn’t paid rent in three months.
When they closed the businesses, Hawes said they left “everything” in terms of inventory. Computers and discs containing backup files had been removed, he said.
On Sept. 13, a post on the Castle Builders’ Facebook page read: “My sincere apologies for the happenings of this past week. Due to circumstances beyond my control I am forced to close Castle Builders Inc. With this being said, it is my intent to be sure all customers and vendors are taken care of. For customers who have work to be completed, there are willing individuals to do so.”
Union Town Manager Jay Feyler said that the impact of the abrupt closure is being felt across Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties, where Castle Builders’ customers have been left with thinner wallets and unfinished projects.
“There are people with roofs that are open, there are people with shingles torn off and tarps up on the side of their house,” Feyler said.
Since the closure, Feyler said customers and employees have been contacting the town office trying to get information. In one instance, Feyler said an individual paid a $15,000 deposit to Castle Builders just days before the closure. The check was cashed, he said.
Rooney and her husband entered into a contract with Castle Builders in March for a roof replacement, the addition of new gutters and the construction of a woodshed. When the contract was signed, the first of three $2,700 payments on the project was made. Rooney said a third of the cost was due when the contract was signed, another third when the work began and the final third when the project was complete.
Initially Malcolm Stewart’s professionalism impressed Rooney, “but that pretty much became a mistake,” she said.
Stewart told Rooney that the work would likely begin in May. But it was early June before Castle Builders reached out about even doing measurements for the project. Rooney said that was the last “proactive interaction” they received from Castle Builders.
Over the course of the summer, Rooney repeatedly called and emailed Castle Builders representatives, asking for an estimated date for when the work would start. She was consistently told by employees ― who she said she doesn’t blame ― that they would have to call her back.
“I had lost faith that anyone was going to tell me anything. I just figured they were going to get to [our project when they get to it]. I never expected them to disappear into thin air,” Rooney said.
In retrospect, Rooney said she feels lucky that Castle Builders never started work on her roof, since a second payment would have been made to the business for work that probably wouldn’t have been finished.
“In a way we’re really lucky that they never showed up. I’ve talked to people who have actually had their projects started. So now they have two thirds of their payment [with Castle Builders] out there and they have a whole bunch of work left undone,” Rooney said.
A Union-based real estate and home renovation business, SRB Homes LLC, is coordinating a volunteer effort to help people impacted by Castle Builders’ closure. According to Feyler, the group is working to complete urgent projects left unfinished by Castle Builders, such as an open or leaking roof, missing doors or windows, and structural problems.
“We are all very busy, but our community is in need before winter gets here and anyone who can help would be greatly appreciated,” a Sept. 15 post on SRB Home’s Facebook page states.
Feyler said individuals with complaints regarding Castle Builders should contact the Attorney General’s Office.