BINGHAM — For decades the building that most recently housed Antlers Inn has been a downtown fixture. It’s been department and general stores and a handful of different restaurants.

But the building at 334 Main St. has been vacant for nearly eight years and now the town, which foreclosed on the building in 2014, is considering tearing it down.

“It’s too bad because it’s kind of a fixture in the town, but like everything else there comes a time when you have to make a decision,” said First Selectman Steve Steward of the sprawling building guarded by a 7-foot-tall moose statue. “The building is old. It’s tired.”

The building’s downward spiral began in 2005, when Blaine Bean, of Moscow, was killed in a bar fight with a Bingham teenager, Dusty Pinkham.

Steward said though there’s been some minor interest in buying it, the town will “probably end up tearing down” the former inn and restaurant.

After Bean was killed at what was then the Moose Alley Inn, the town refused liquor licenses to two separate owners, and no business in the building has managed to operate successfully over the long term. The last one was tangled up in the courts until the owners stopped paying taxes and the town foreclosed.

‘EMPTY TOO LONG’

Dan and Casey Hilton, who own NAPA Bingham Auto Parts, across the street from the building, said that since the most recent restaurant owners defaulted on their taxes, the site has become an eyesore.

“It’s gone too far,” said Dan Hilton, 47. “It probably should be torn down because it’s sat empty for so long.”

The Hiltons said they never noticed any problems when the restaurant and bar was in operation, but their store is open only during the day.

“Everything was after hours,” Dan Hilton said. “It seemed like it was good for the town and a nice place. I really don’t know what happened to it.”

Chet Hibbard, who owns the pharmacy next door, which he lives above, said there was more noise and fights broke out occasionally when the restaurant was in operation.

His store, E.W. Moore & Sons Pharmacy, looks across at the now boarded-up building with “Keep Out” signs on the walls. The moose statue — which is on a small piece of property that belongs to the town but almost touches the restaurant’s old patio fence — is missing an antler.

“I can’t imagine anybody could make a go of it,” Hibbard said. “It’s been in such rough shape for such a long time.”

Before Moose Alley, the building, which is about 100 years old, according to Steward, was home to at least two department and general stores.

Hibbard, who grew up in nearby Madison and took over the pharmacy in 1994, said he remembers when the building was a large department store, Bushey and Sterling’s, owned by two local families.

He said problems started when Moose Alley began to foster more of a bar atmosphere than that of a restaurant.

“That was the problem for us,” said Hibbard, 61. “There was a lot of noise from the bar and people out late screaming and arguing. It wasn’t a lot of fun.”

FATAL FIGHT

In August 2005, Pinkham, 19, was arrested after a fight outside the inn.

He was sentenced to 36 months in prison for aggravated assault in 2006 and the town denied Moose Alley a liquor license in August 2005 — just two weeks after the fatal fight.

A public hearing on the matter drew dozens of people — many of whom were against the idea of a bar downtown — and the restaurant closed shortly afterward.

Prosecutors dropped a manslaughter charge against Pinkham because Beane threw the first punch after Pinkham, who was a student at Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School, yelled obscenities at him.

Somerset County Superior Court Justice Joseph Jabar said during sentencing that Pinkham’s age saved him from the maximum allowable prison sentence for the aggravated assault conviction.

The location hasn’t seen much activity since then, but Steward said he doesn’t think the building’s deterioration can be linked to assault case.

“It has nothing to do with the building. It was just a conflict between (Beane) and some other people,” he said.

“It is a residential neighborhood though,” he added. “People were pretty much very upset when that took place.”

Steve DiPietro and Aaron Sorenson, business owners from southern Maine, bought the building in 2007, hoping to open a restaurant, and they spent six months refurbishing the building.

The town never granted them a liquor license and the restaurant closed after less than a year when state officials found that they were selling alcohol without a license.

Steward told the Morning Sentinel in 2009 that the town was concerned about having a bar in the area, even though there were and still are other locations in Bingham that serve alcohol, including Thompson’s Restaurant, which is just a block up the street.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the town’s decision in 2012 after DiPietro and Sorenson appealed the refusal to grant them a liquor license.

‘THE MOOSE WILL STAY’

The town’s selectmen have been talking for a few months about the building’s future, and while Steward said it is likely they will demolish it, they also have sought a buyer through word of mouth and at least one person expressed interest.

Steward said he didn’t think it would be possible to reopen the site for business, but lumber could be salvaged from it if the right person wanted to do it.

If a demolition does take place, it will likely not be until at least the spring, and Steward said he was not sure how much it would cost the town.

One thing he is sure of, though, is that the large moose sculpture — originally bought with a town economic development grant by Dave Jones, the first owner of Moose Alley — will remain in Bingham.

“The moose gets a lot of attention,” said Hibbard, who added that it can be hard to get passers-by to stop on Main Street when they see boarded up buildings such as the former Moose Alley.

“When they see (the statue), they stop,” he said. “Especially tourists in the summer. Everyone wants a picture.”

“The moose will stay,” Steward said. “I’ve had people from Greenville, Hartland, Moscow, all over saying they want the moose, but it will stay in Bingham.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.