Some shocked by business closings

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Local residents were saddened and shocked by the sudden closing of the Bridgton Gas & Convenience store on Main Street last week. Owner Kevin Hayes opened for business as usual that Wednesday morning, Sept. 28, just as he had for years, but had locked up by that afternoon without notice to his customers, or reportedly, his employees.

Customers were still pulling up to his gas pumps days later, not realizing the store had closed.

Hayes, who lives on the Pond Road, did not return a call made to his home by press time. His 233 Main Street store, in the heart of downtown, was a regular pit stop for locals and commuters alike, who came for the gas, the deli sandwiches, and the friendly atmosphere. Bridgton Gas & Convenience was an independently-run convenience store, one of the last remaining in town.

Hayes’ decision to close up shop comes on the heels of the sudden closing on Sept. 15 of another popular local destination, the Trailside Restaurant on the Portland Road. In that case as well, employees also reportedly had no notice, and several customers who had bought gift certificates called police to inquire how they were going to get reimbursed.

“Any and all small business people today are heroes. But you know, small businesses come and go,” said Alan Manoian, Bridgton’s director of Economic and Community Development. “It’s just unfortunate the way those businesses closed.”

Manoian said he has talked to some people who are concerned about the health of the local economy because of the closings. “It creates just a sort of a sense of discomfort, since Trailside was doing amazing business. Everybody agrees it was less than a graceful departure, and your heart goes out to the employees.”

Bridgton Police Investigator Brad Gaumont said he stopped in to Trailside to talk to restaurant owner Michael Luciano after the building’s owner, Jack Dean, became concerned that Luciano was removing items in the building not belonging to him.

But Gaumont said Luciano was only taking oil he had purchased, and in fact was leaving some of his own equipment behind. “There was no theft involved, and there’s no open case,” Gaumont said. As far as those who want their money back for gift certificates they had purchased, Gaumont said, “That’s a civil matter.”

Luciano could not be reached for comment.

Jim Mains Jr., executive director of the Greater Bridgton-Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of Naples businesses reported having a pretty good summer, despite the Causeway construction. As for Bridgton, he wasn’t sure; the Chamber doesn’t attempt to track local small business sales activity in any definitive way.

Mains said it’s a mistake to judge the economic health of a community by looking at retail alone. “Bridgton Academy’s growing all the time, and so is Shawnee Peak,” he said.

Howell Labs, just outside of downtown, provides good-paying high-tech jobs, as does Down East Inc. Both rely heavily on government contracts. Mains said a little-known success story is Chalmers Insurance in downtown Bridgton, which employs 110 people who handle health insurance contracts for all of the Division 1 schools in the country.

“Small retail has a tendency to turn, but it’s really a small part of (the overall economic picture),” Mains said. “You’ve got a lot of solid people in the downtown, and we’re better off than a lot of communities” because of the influx of summer visitors attracted to the area’s lakes and natural beauty.

“I still say Bridgton Main Street will come around,” Mains said. “You’ve got to make the commitment and stick with it.”

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