LEWISTON – A retailer that caters to folks who don’t mind a little dirt under their nails plans to open here next fall.

Tractor Supply Co., the nation’s largest tractor/gentleman farmer store, submitted plans to the Planning Board for its fifth Maine store, to be sited on outer Lisbon Street. Designed for hobby farmers and do-it-yourselfers, the store provides tractors, lawn and garden supplies, pet and animal care products, fencing, generators and work wear.

Plans for the retail complex show a 20,000-square-foot store with about an equal size outdoor display space, located at the corner of Lisbon and Read streets near the Elk’s lodge.

“Initially the draw was Wal-Mart. When they pulled out, I wasn’t sure what would happen,” said developer Scott Shapiro, who toured the site with company officials. “But we went out to the site and no one talked for a few minutes, we just listened. There was so much traffic; it really made an impression.”

Last winter, Wal-Mart walked away from its plans to build an anchor Supercenter in a proposed retail hub at Exit 80. The departure put the brakes on retail development at the 75-acre site.

Shapiro said Tractor Supply Co. expects to open the store next fall, if all goes well with the permitting process. The plans are up for review Monday by the Planning Board.

Shapiro said Tractor Supply Co. is unusual in that it is expanding its retail footprint while others are closing stores or putting on the brakes. The company has more than 800 stores in 43 states and plans to open almost 100 new stores in fiscal 2008, according to its 2007 annual report.

“Everybody is geared up to find new sites,” said Shapiro, adding that Tractor Supply has its own in-house real estate departments and legal team to act quickly on new properties. “They expect the economic downturn will only last a couple of years and we’ll come out of it by the end of next year. They’ll be poised. They’ll have the best sites.”

The Lewiston location follows two test stores in Scarborough and Skowhegan, a new store in Oxford and one under way in Augusta.

“Skowhegan has been very, very busy,” Shapiro said. Tractor Supply was encouraged enough by its performance to consider more stores for Maine. The company has been expanding its locations by about 15 percent per year, but New England is a new territory for it.

“They do very well in the Midwest and Maine still has that agricultural feel to it,” Shapiro said. The company tagline is “The stuff you need out here,” referring to a more rural lifestyle.

Lincoln Jeffers, economic development chief for the city, said he was excited at the newest addition to the area’s retail options. Although the location is outside the proposed Exit 80 retail hub, it is still a retail spark.

“It is the beginning,” said Jeffers of the announcement. “We thought that Exit 80 would be developed first and that more retail would migrate to that area of Lisbon Street, but this is coming first.”

The cost of the store will exceed $1 million, Shapiro said, and it should employ between 15 and 20 people.

The company, founded in 1938 in North Dakota, reported $2 billion in revenues last year and is traded under the symbol TSCO on NASDAQ.

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