WATERVILLE (AP) – Furniture, clothing and other merchandise from Florida stores that were damaged by Hurricanes Charley and Frances are headed to Maine to be sold at bargain prices.

Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, a Waterville-based liquidator with 14 stores in Maine, including one in Lewiston and one in Gray, said it purchased the goods from insurance companies scrambling to deal with the devastation caused by the storms.

Harold “Ham” Marden, company president, said the merchandise came mostly from Florida’s west coast. He said Marden’s has emptied damaged furniture, clothing and entire department stores.

Much of the merchandise simply got wet, Marden said, but has nevertheless been written off by insurance claims. Marden said insurers often empty a damaged store and sell its contents – even if the merchandise is unblemished – in part because it’s easier to rebuild an empty building.

Marden’s, whose buyers have been competing with those of four or five rival liquidators, has paid insurance companies nearly $4 million for items from Florida, he said.

Total insured losses from the hurricanes has been pegged as high as $9 billion, and experts say overall damages are usually double the insured amount.

The merchandise is already arriving at company distribution centers and will gradually appear on shelves in all 14 stores.

“We’ll divvy it up as fairly as we can,” Marden said.

While acknowledging that buying items from devastated areas may seem ghoulish to some people, Marden said the process benefits insurance companies and helps the area’s economy recover.

“It’s part of a business cycle that needs to happen,” Marden said. “If people like us didn’t buy this merchandise, it would end up in Dumpsters.”

Three years ago, Marden’s made a widely publicized purchase of high-fashion clothing from New York stores damaged by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

“It was beautiful merchandise,” Marden recalled.

AP-ES-09-14-04 0956EDT

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