Agency worked with store, Growth Council chief says

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NORWAY – John Shattuck wants people to know that the Growth Council of Oxford Hills isn’t heartless.

It may seem that way to some people, Shattuck, the council’s executive director, said Thursday night. “Just look at some of the comments people wrote” at the end of a news story posted on the Sun Journal’s Web site. The story, which appeared in Wednesday’s newspaper, reported on the Maine Made & More store moving from the old J.J. Newberry building on Main Street.

In the article, store owner Vickie Farr complained that she has to vacate the building by month’s end. She blamed the Growth Council, which owns the building, for forcing her out.

And she complains about it like this: “I’m disappointed that the Growth Council can’t do more to help businesses on Main Street.”

Hold on a minute, said Shattuck. “She’s known since Sept. 8” that the store’s time in the Newberry building was limited. Maine Made & More founder George Gordon was well-compensated then when he agreed to terminate a five-year lease with the council early, Shattuck said.

The lease termination resulted from Norway Savings Bank’s plans to relocate to the Newberry’s building.

Shattuck said Farr purchased the Norway Maine Made and More store from Gordon earlier this month, about the same time the council agreed to extend the store’s lease to the end of January at her request. It had been scheduled to expire at the end of December, based on the earlier deal with Gordon.

Farr had wanted to move the store into the Odd Fellows Hall, another Growth Council property, but a deal to sell that building fell through. If the building had been sold, Shattuck said Farr’s business might have been accommodated through the end of February.

Shattuck also said Farr knew, or should have known based on other conversations, that the sale of the Odd Fellows building was tenuous at best.

“We had concerns” about a potential buyer’s ability to raise the money needed to consummate the deal, Shattuck said.

Farr’s move to the building was contingent on that sale.

Shattuck said it wasn’t fair of Farr to lead people to believe she was told to leave the Newberry building on short notice. She was privy to the September lease change that benefited Gordon, and had taken part in conversations leading up to a Dec. 31 lease conclusion that was later extended to Jan. 15, then Jan. 31.

He also said the Growth Council had offered Farr assistance in finding another location for her store. Farr refused that help, and told the council she didn’t need its assistance with loans or a business plan, either.

Farr disputes that, however.

First off, she said Thursday night, the council and Gordon agreed to the leases that concluded as of Jan. 15. Her lease with the council took effect Jan. 16 and ran until the end of January, or the end of February if the Odd Fellows building sold.

She also said, “I don’t know that they offered any other location,” adding of loan assistance, “They told me they didn’t have any funding, that they were broke.”

And she said she’s working with the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments on her business plan.

Farr also said she can’t see why she has to vacate the Newberry building now, when the bank doesn’t plan to begin renovating it until March.

“I understand that he’s frustrated with not selling” the Odd Fellows building, “but what’s wrong with waiting a little longer?”

Still, she said, getting out now might be to her advantage.

She paid $2,125 to remain there from Jan. 16 to the 31, Farr said, and was facing a $4,100 payment for February.

Now, she hopes to relocate to the old Books N Things store in the old Ames plaza off Route 26 in Oxford.

“I really want to stay in the Oxford Hills area,” she said.

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