‘We want to keep them working’; As hardware store and sawmill endures shaky housing market, Lincoln offers grant to help company diversify

This story was published on Feb. 16, 2008 on Page C1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

Haskell Lumber Inc. has been in business for 86 years, and Lee Haskell wants to make sure it stays in business.

The Lincoln hardware store and sawmill co-owner will receive $3,000 from Lincoln to hire Eastern Maine Development Corp. to help his business diversify and avoid the pitfalls of the continuing housing market and state forest products industry downturn which forced his company to lay off 10 people last year.

“We want to keep as many people employed here as possible and remain competitive,” Haskell said this week. “That’s the goal. We had to lay people off last year and that was very painful for us. We’ve kept everybody we could, and we want to keep them working.”

Based in Bangor, EMDC is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and assistance to businesses and communities, including Lincoln and Millinocket, in six counties. Services include business counseling, work force training and lending programs, according to its Web site, emdc.org.

The Town Council voted 7-0 on Monday night to appropriate the funds from the Marguerite Flanders Economic Development reserve account, which is set aside for economic development.

EMDC will seek to secure grants for Haskell to help the company diversify, Town Manager Glenn Aho said. Exactly how the 25-worker company would diversify is unknown, and if Haskell, Aho and company President Mike McFalls had ideas about where it might go, they declined to outline them.

The allocation is in line with Lincoln’s goal of helping all town businesses grow and diversify, Aho said. It follows a similar action last year in which PK Floats of Lincoln received aid that allowed the small manufacturing firm to double in size.

Located on U.S. Route 2 in north Lincoln, Haskell Lumber offers a full range of hardware, plumbing and housing construction supplies plus a sawmill that cuts eastern white pine into planking and other lumber. It has been family-owned for generations and its customers like its service-oriented approach.

“It’s the best hardware store around. I’ve been coming here for more than 40 years,” said Patsy Flynn, a Carroll Plantation resident who was in the store with her husband, Chris, on Tuesday buying paint for the remodeling of their bedroom. “It’s a one-stop shop. You come here and you really don’t have to go anywhere else.”

Lincoln’s housing market is pretty stable, Aho said. About 200 building permits were issued in the 2006-07 fiscal year in Lincoln, and about 155 have been issued for the 2007-08 period, which ends June 30, he said. Lincoln also has about 60 building lots ready for subdivision that haven’t yet sold.

But the hardware market is especially competitive in Lincoln. Aubuchon, Smart’s True Value, Wyman Hardware of Mattawamkeag and Thompson’s Hardware of West Enfield are among Haskell’s competitors, as is Wal-Mart on West Broadway.

Wal-Mart will expand its Lincoln store in 2009 – a sign, McFalls said, that big-box stores such as Lowe’s are headed Lincoln’s way. Rumors of a Lowe’s or other big-box store coming to West Broadway or the Interstate 95 access road have been floating around town for more than a year, he said.

“We’ve heard a lot of that over the past year,” McFalls said. “Let’s face it, if the [Wal-Mart Supercenter] comes in, that’s like a prerequisite for other, larger stores to come here.”