NEWPORT — The smoke-smelling tools and charred customer paperwork provide a not-so-subtle reminder of the fire that nearly destroyed Sherm O’Brien’s taxidermy business on Memorial Day 2011.

“We thought we were done,” said Leona O’Brien, who runs the business with her husband, Sherm. “When we saw the smoke … we thought we were done. If there were ever a time in my life that I realized I would do anything to get that look out of (Sherm’s) eyes it was watching the fire.

“We didn’t know what we do or where we’d end up.”

A little more than a year later, the O’Briens and their taxidermy business are back on their feet again.

About three months after the fire burned to the ground his business on Rice Rips Road in Oakland, O’Brien purchased 1,000 square feet of office space in Newport Industrial Center off Route 2.

Soon after he bought out the rest of the building from Maurice Temple, of Palmyra, giving him 4,500 square feet and a vision to expand.

“Two or three people all told me about this building and it all came together,” said O’Brien, who lives in Pittsfield. “After the fire, we thought maybe we should look for something closer to home. We had been working right out of our garage just trying to keep it going. Now we have all this space so we said, ‘What can we do with it.’ “

Added Leona: “It’s funny, because the only things that got saved from the fire were the antlers from our customers. Not one thing of the customers was ruined. We were also able to save 99 percent of the paperwork.

“That was a silver lining. It helped keep the business going. When we saw the antlers get pulled out we were like, ‘Oh, thank God.'”

The O’Briens opened an eight-lane archery center inside the building last weekend to help fill out the space. The range opens at 1 p.m. and closes at 8 p.m.

The range, which the O’Brien children — Ronda, 10, and John, 8 — help run, is just part of the family’s vision.

“If there were ever a time for Sherm to realize his dream now this is it,” Leona said. “We’d love to do an entire outdoor center. We could host seminars and conferences. If somebody wanted to come in and give a talk, we could organize it.

“We have these ideas of holding seminars on everything, from what poison ivy looks like or what a deer’s habitat is. We’re pushing toward the kids. We want to do things where we could show them how to identify where moose or where bears are. It’s why we did the archery.”

The O’Briens, who moved to Maine from Bozeman, Mont., in 2003, purchased the taxidermy business from Dave Cote in 2008.

It was, Sherm said, a realization of a lifelong dream.

“I’ve always like hunting and fishing,” he said. “I always had taxidermy done for me. I always thought I’d be interested in it. When we came here, I volunteered with Dave Cote for one day a week in Oakland.

“When he decided to retire, he sold the business to me and we bought it in 2008. Now, we have all these ideas and things we want to do. We’ve moved on. We try not to think about the fire any more, but there are still reminders. You open up the toolbox and you can still smell the smoke. It happened, but now we’ve moved on.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

 

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