BATH — The attorney for the owner of Gediman’s Appliance, which closed its Bath and Lewiston stores abruptly in September, said Thursday that his client is taking steps to address complaints to the attorney general’s office that he left more than 50 customers in the lurch by taking advance payments for appliances or services he did not provide.
Peter Gagnon “bit off more than he could chew” when he opened a second store in Lewiston, attorney Leonard Sharon said Thursday in an email to the Bangor Daily News. Sharon asserted that Gagnon is not guilty of fraud and is cooperating fully with an investigator for the Maine attorney general’s office.
After 86 years in business, Gediman’s Appliance on Centre Street in Bath closed without notice in early September. Gediman’s on Lisbon Street in Lewiston also closed that month.
Dozens of customers contacted the attorney general’s office to say that Gediman’s owed them appliances, repairs or — at the very least — their money back, complaint examiner Martha Currier of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division said in October.
On Thursday, Timothy Feeley, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the office has received complaints from 57 customers. He declined to comment further on the case.
“These are people who are in the process of building a house and purchased all their appliances — a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, dryer — from Gediman’s,” Currier said in October. “Add that up, and you’re looking at $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 — a lot of money. But then [there’s the] single parent who needs a dishwasher, and for them, $400 is a lot of money.”
Sharon said on Thursday that Gagnon never took any money without intending to provide goods or services. He said Gagnon was actively seeking financing to continue the business up to and even after it closed.
“Several customers complained that he had taken their funds without any intent to provide the appliances. … It is my recollection that in some instances [Gagnon] received all or part payment and was in the process of obtaining the appliances when his financial situation deteriorated to the point where he had to close,” Sharon said.
Heather Kindell-Leeman of New Harbor was one of those customers. Kindell-Leeman, who co-owns Christopher Leeman Building Construction with her husband, Christopher Leeman, said Thursday that as the deadline for a project neared, Gediman’s gave her a number of excuses for why the store hadn’t delivered a $6,000 Blue Star oven for which she had already paid.
“At first they told me it came damaged — that was when I could get a hold of them,” Kindell-Leeman said. “Then they told me it hadn’t shipped yet. Then one of the owners called me from his cellphone and said he was working on it, but his mother had just died. Then they just stopped answering their phones.”
Kindell-Leeman said she called the oven manufacturer in Pennsylvania and was told two separate appliances were ready to ship to Gediman’s but hadn’t been paid for.
“I said, ‘Well I’ve paid for it,’” Kindell-Leeman said. “They were great. They sold me a new oven direct and shipped it to me, and only charged me exactly what it cost them to make it. I still lost money, but I didn’t lose it all.”
Kindell-Leeman said she bought appliances from Gediman’s “for years and years and years. I never had a problem. I think that’s why people sort of let it go and waited so long [to complain]. They had so much trust.”
Currier said in October that she was notified by Gagnon’s attorney that the store owner planned to file for bankruptcy. In an Oct. 7 letter to complainants, she wrote that because secured creditors — banks and businesses — are considered first to receive redress in a bankruptcy, it was unlikely customers would receive a full refund.
Sharon said he did not know whether Gagnon had filed for bankruptcy protection.
He said he and Gagnon submitted “almost all of the information” requested by Assistant Attorney General Linda Conti on Thursday.
“There is no fraud or intent involved here, and we will work closely with the state to resolve this favorably to all concerned,” Sharon said. “This business was his life — he grew up always wanting to be involved in appliances.”
Gagnon and his wife, Serrene, bought Gediman’s in 2005 from Jayne and Russ Palmer, who had owned and operated the store on Centre Street in Bath for the previous 19 years.