SKOWHEGAN — Keep ’em coming.
That was the response recently from Jason Willey, a territorial sales manager for NAPA Auto Parts, when asked if competition in Skowhegan will be tough for a new store opening soon in the former Aubuchon Hardware store in downtown Skowhegan.
Andre J. St. Peter — Andy, for short — purchased the building with his investment group in January. St. Peter and his partners already own NAPA stores in Wilton, Mexico, Bridgton and the existing NAPA store at the Skowhegan Village Plaza, which will be vacated before the scheduled opening of the new store May 1. His group also runs several real estate investment companies, including Heritage Investments LLC, which bought the former Aubuchon store that sits right in the heart of downtown Skowhegan.
“This is kind of an iconic building. It’s been around for a long time,” Willey said last week before heading back to his Westbrook offices. “It’s a centerpiece of the town. When you come around from Route 201 it’s the first thing you’re going to see — a big NAPA sign out front and this cool facility. I think it’s exciting for everybody to bring an existing business, to upgrade it to a better business … in Skowhegan. It shows that people are making a commitment to their community.”
Aubuchon, a retail anchor in downtown Skowhegan for more than three decades, closed in August due in large part to competition from big-box stores, especially in sales of such items as snowblowers, gas grills and riding lawn tractors. Aubuchon has been selling hardware, paint, feed, plumbing supplies and outdoor appliances for the past 34 years in Skowhegan. The store at 9 Commercial St. is in the heart of the downtown business district, a conspicuous tenant adjacent to the revitalized municipal parking lot that features sculptures by Maine artist Bernard Langlais.
The store and property are valued for taxation at $261,400, according to records at the assessors’ office. Aubuchon paid $4,783 in real estate taxes annually and another $713 in personal property taxes. The building previously was home to an A&P supermarket. Later part of the building was Mad Matt’s Pizza shop and a doughnut shop.
St. Pierre, 58, who lives in Peru, has been at the new store in recent days managing the remodeling of the 6,000-square-foot store that also has 3,000 square feet of cold storage and a full, dry basement, also for storage. The ceiling and lighting has been replaced, there is a new floor and the whole place has been painted.
St. Pierre and his wife, Annette, have been in business for about 30 years with Annette doing all the office work for the various business entities. He bought the current, smaller NAPA store a year ago, knowing he would have to relocate for better visibility. The store in the Skowhegan Village Plaza is about 4,000 square feet and St. Pierre said he needed more space to be a competitor.
“It worked out very well to move here because the visibility is so nice. You can’t beat it compared to where we are,” he said. “We’re established in Skowhegan. We have a good reputation there. I want to put it on the map.”
He would not say how much he paid for the building.
As far as stiff competition for auto parts stores in town, Willey said it’s clear that NAPA wants to be a bigger player in the game. Other auto parts stores in Skowhegan include Motor Supply Co., Advance Auto Parts, VIP Tires and Service and the adjoining O’Reilly Auto Parts.
Willey said there are 80 NAPA stores in Maine. Some, like the new Skowhegan location, are privately owned franchises, others are corporate owned. The National Automotive Parts Association, NAPA Auto Parts, was founded in 1925 and has more than 6,000 locations nationwide.
St. Pierre went to Rumford High School, then attended Central Maine Vocational Technical Institute in Auburn and the University of Southern Maine for industrial technology and a master’s degree in business administration.
“We wanted to invest in the Route 2 corridor from Mexico on the way up through,” he said of his reason for coming to Skowhegan. “It works out well because we can shuttle parts between the three stores along Route 2.”
St. Pierre said the main entrance to the store will be on the municipal parking lot, as was Aubuchon’s. The big move from the other NAPA store in Skowhegan will be in the last week of April after he puts the blue and yellow NAPA signs on the building.
“I’m really honored to be part of the community here in Skowhegan” he said. “I certainly hope the folks here enjoy coming into the store. We want to be part of the community and part of the economy here.”
Doug Harlow — 612-2367