From left to right: Kevin Goodrich, Derek Merrill, Rick Merrill and Steve Walker. submitted photo

GREENWOOD — Putting in a hard days work is high on Rick Merrill’s list of priorities. It always has been. It is in his blood.

The nearly lifelong local who started his business, “Merrill’s Maintenance,” from practically nothing more than 15 years ago, is always looking for a new challenge he and his crew can take on.

Merrill grew up in Bethel, graduated from Telstar in 1986 and has spent most of his life in the area, besides a few years of living in Portland. He said the faster paced environment that came with Maine’s most populated city was never his cup of tea.

After returning to Bethel, Merrill was employed by Brooks Brothers, the IGA and Jack Cross, the latter of which was the final business he worked for before branching out on his own.

When he was realized it was time for a job change, Merrill phoned Punky Davis, who was in charge of property management at Eden Ridge Condos at the time, and asked if he had any work available. Davis told Merrill that if he were to get a lawnmower and some weed whackers, he would be able to help him out.

Merrill did exactly that and before he knew it was in the beginning stages of running his own business.

For the first few years of being on his own, Merrill was getting the bulk of his work through Davis, who was finding jobs left and right for Merrill to tackle. Davis also helped set up Merrill with a good insurance company, which he still uses today. Outside of Davis, Merrill mostly relied on word of mouth to land other jobs. He never advertised, at least not for awhile. His first step toward promoting his business was designing t-shirts, which said “Got Grass?” on the front. He made his first batch of t-shirts about four years ago and has made another round of them since. They instantly became a hit with anyone who noticed them.

“When I was walking it seemed like every five minutes I was getting compliments on them,” Merrill said. “People were asking me for them. I even had people selling them for me.”

Merrill said he will often just give the shirts away.

One touch Merrill decided to add on the shirt was a marijuana leaf, a decision he still questions today, but one that has ultimately paid off for him. The leaf can be seen on one of the sleeves. He had one individual ask if him if he was caregiver. Merrill explained to him why he put the leaf there.

“I told him I thought it would get peoples attention on my landscaping and mowing business. I wanted it to stick out,” he said. “The guy liked my idea a lot.”

Merrill’s Maintenance mows, weed whacks, landscapes, removes brush, blows leaves, installs well points and does light demolition and condo maintenance. More recently they have started building pavers.

They have installed six well points this year, given the unusually dry summer. Merrill said he may have more to install before the season ends. His business is always looking for a challenge, or just something new to do in general. Merrill said his crew will do any project they are comfortable with and if Merrill decides the job is too complex, he will insist on finding the best outfit out there to do it for the customer. In most cases, though, his crew is able to get the job done.

Having a reliable crew has been essential for him. He singled out his brother-in-law and longest tenured employee, Steve Walker, for being a great right hand man to him.

“He’s helped me out a lot. He’s taught me a lot and I’ve taught him a lot. He’s a go-getter and he has a lot of knowledge,” Merrill said.

His business’s willingness to take on jobs others will not has allowed him to have a steady stream of work since starting up, but when COVID-19 hit in March, that stream slowed down immensely. Merrill’s crew was no longer allowed in any condos in around Sunday River, which meant no work up there. The condos were jobs Merrill relied heavily on. He eventually had to apply for a small business loan.

“It hit a lot of peoples wallets hard,” he said.

Merrill was able to make it through, but felt the impact, nonetheless.

Now, back in a somewhat normal routine, Merrill is prepping for fall work, where he hopes to get some new and exciting jobs. Whatever the job, Merrill and his crew will take it on with the same tenacity they approach every job with — one of the key reasons to why he’s been in business so long.

He recalled a couple interesting jobs he and his crew have done over the years.

His crew does one job for a seasonal neighbor not too far from where Merrill resides. The man lives on the back side of a mountain and has hiking trails that lead to the top. He always wants Merrill’s crew to come up and maintain it, so it does not become too grown in. The crew enjoys this job because they can drive four-wheeler’s as far up the trail as they’ll go and then start weed whacking back down the mountain.

Another job was for Rodney Harrington, a former neighbor who wanted his yard completely re-done.

“Rodney wanted us to clear out the field behind his house to make it look like it did in 1950,” Merrill said.

Harrington showed Merrill a photo of the property from the 50’s so he had something to go off. By the time the project was finished, it looked nearly identical to the 1950 photo.

“Until he passed away he was thanking us for our work every time he had the chance.”

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