SKOWHEGAN — A changing business climate and competition from big-box stores has forced Aubuchon Hardware, a retail anchor in downtown Skowhegan for more than three decades, to close.

On Thursday, brown paper covered the windows and doors and a notice was posted announcing the closing. The doors were locked and merchandise started being removed at 4 p.m. Wednesday, said Ryan R. Lamb, Aubuchon regional director of sales and operations in Maine.

“I’ve been with Aubuchon since ’87. I started as a high school kid with a worker’s permit,” Lamb said. “So it’s very sad for me when we close a store in my home state of Maine. Very sad.”

Aubuchon has been selling hardware, paint, feed, plumbing supplies and outdoor appliances for the past 34 years in Skowhegan. The 7,769-square-foot building at 9 Commercial St. is in the heart of the downtown business district, a conspicuous tenant in the revitalized municipal parking lot that features sculptures by Maine artist Bernard Langlais.

“The market has changed. We’re not getting the traffic flow that we once did,” Lamb said Thursday morning from the checkout counter. “We close a location when it becomes nonprofitable. It’s not profitable for us to keep it here anymore. People are going someplace else, probably the big box. When we were in small Main Street locations that were once very profitable, (they were) very good to us back in the ’80s and ’90s, we see the change has come on with the Super Wal-Marts, the Home Depots, the Lowe’s, (which) have pushed us out of smaller communities like this.

“The bell’s not ringing like it used to be.”

Lamb said the store in Skowhegan could not remain competitive when it came to sales of large items such as snowblowers, gas grills and lawn tractors. He said when customers would go to a big box store for such items, they stop and shop for other merchandise while they are there, cutting into Aubuchon sales at many different levels.

The six employees at the Skowhegan store will be offered jobs at Aubuchon Hardware stores in Farmington, Waterville and Newport. Founded in Massachusetts in 1908, Aubuchon has 112 stores in New York and the New England states.

The store and property is valued for taxation at $261,400, according to records at the assessors’ office. The company pays $4,783 in real estate taxes annually and another $713 in personal property taxes. The building previously was home to an A&P supermarket, and later part of the building was Mad Matt’s Pizza shop and a doughnut shop.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand and the town’s director of economic and community development, Jeffrey Hewett, said Thursday they were surprised and disappointed to see the store had closed without notice.

“As an anchor tenant to the municipal lot that was a store that was utilized by many people in town — it’s devastating any time you see a business leave and shut their doors,” Almand said Thursday. “It’s the jobs. It definitely impacts the local economy.”

Almand said there was some debate with Aubuchon President Gregory Moran in October 2014 after work began on the new municipal parking lot. In a letter to town selectmen, Moran asked if the store could use the sidewalk along the building to display merchandise outside as long as there was a 5-foot-wide clear area for pedestrians. Moran also asked if the store could use up to 33 percent of the new green space created by the project along Commercial Street. He said that space would be used seasonally to display lawn mowers, wheelbarrows and other summer items.

In a 5-0 vote by selectmen Oct. 28, 2014, the board agreed to allow use of the sidewalk but declined to permit use of the green space, which is town property.

Almand said the agreement with Aubuchon was amicable and there were no hard feelings between the parties.

“There were discussions back and forth, but we worked things out,” Almand said.

Contacted by phone Thursday at Aubuchon corporate headquarters in Westminster, Massachusetts, Moran agreed, saying that issue had nothing to do with the closing.

Almand said the loss of Aubuchon will affect people who like to shop locally, including visits to the local farmers market, which is near the hardware store.

“They love the shop-local movement and the downtown,” she said. “It’s always nice to have a vibrant downtown, which is primarily small businesses.”

Jeffry Hewett, Skowhegan director of economic and community development, said there could be a silver lining in the Aubuchon closing, despite the loss of a hardware store in the busy downtown business district. He said the space could be used by a company or even a collection of businesses that fit the emerging food hub identity that Skowhegan is experiencing.

“It was a very big surprise,” Hewett said of the abrupt closing. “We’ve done a lot of things in that area to make it look nice and to attract people.”

Hewett said the final cost of the revitalization of the municipal parking lot, of which Aubuchon was a fixture, came in at about $850,000, including sidewalks, trees, lamps and green space. The project was completed in the fall of 2015.

Hewett said his office will work with Aubuchon Realty to market the building and find a tenant or a buyer.

“It’s a good building,” he said. “It’s got a full basement. It’s got good parking and a loading dock — a lot of things groups would want. Potentially, if we could find the right use for it, this could be a good potential to attract something that fits with what’s happening with the downtown, with the grist mill and the agriculture food hub that’s in that area.”

Lamb said Aubuchon Reality owns the building and it will either go up for sale or the company will lease it.

“It’s a 100-plus-year-old company. We hate to have to pull the plug on anything,” Lamb said. “It’s unbelievable, very sad.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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