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Business Notes: Longtime Associates Buy ARC Mechanical; Hobby Lobby Begins Renovations at Former Kmart in Claremont



Valley News Business Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2018

ARC Mechanical Contractors, a HVAC contractor whose trucks are a familiar sight around the Upper Valley, has been sold by owner Wil Buskey to longtime associates Jody Perkins and Andy Courchesne.

Buskey, who had owned the Bradford, Vt.-based contractor since 2002, officially retired after nearly 50 years in the HVAC business at the end of 2017.

“I have no doubt ARC will continue to grow and thrive in the industry under Jody and Andy’s leadership,” Buskey said in a company-wide statement to employees announcing the transition.

Perkins joined ARC in 1992 as a service technician; Courchesne joined in 2011 as a sales manager and became vice president of sales and operations that same year.

“We just kind of grew together and (acquiring ARC is) something we’ve been talking about for several years,” Perkins said in an interview about picking up the reins of the company from Buskey.

But Perkins said as discussions progressed, he realized that acquiring and managing the 65-employee company that now has $13 million in annual sales and four locations in Vermont and New Hampshire would be an enterprise that required more than a single individual.

“Initially it was going to be just myself. But noticing how big the business has become I felt it was important to have a partner. There are just so many pieces to it,” Perkins said.

So Perkins and Courchesne are now 50-50 partners in ARC. The sale was self-financed through Buskey and no bank loans were taken out to swing the deal, although Perkins credited law firm Downs Rachlin Martin and Ledyard National Bank with providing valuable counsel and advice.

Perkins, a native of Lebanon and graduate of Lebanon High School, primarily looks after the service side of ARC while Courchesne, a native of Springfield, heads up the construction side of the business.

“And we put our heads together on business development and strategy,” Perkins said.

About 80 percent of ARC’s business are commercial projects.

The remaining 20 percent is for the home market. “The residential work is mostly heat pump systems. We do a lot of those now,” Perkins said.

The transition in ownership has been seamless, according to Perkins.

“Wil was really good at stepping back over time and gradually letting us run with it,” Perkins said. “Finally he was able to say, ‘Here are the keys. I know you can do it,’ ” Perkins said.

Buskey acquired control of ARC in 2002 when he bought the shares held by Rod Whitcomb. At the time, ARC had a total of 35 employees. Today it has that many just in licensed plumbers, HVAC/heat pump installers and sheetmetal fabricators.

ARC, initially named Allen Refrigeration Co., was founded in 1947 by Chester (Chet) Allen in Bradford. In 1987, Allen sold the company to Whitcomb and Howard Myers, who changed the name to ARC Mechanical Contractors to reflect its broadening business. Myers then sold out to Whitcomb in 1995 before Whitcomb in turn sold to Buskey, who had been with the company since 1990, in 2002.

ARC also has locations in Lebanon, Littleton, N.H., and West Chesterfield, N.H.

Payday Lender Title CashCloses in West Lebanon

Title Cash, the payday lender on Main Street in West Lebanon, has shut down, the result of an “underperforming” location according to the company’s regional manager.

Ray Lopez, who overseas the 14 Title Cash stores in New Hampshire — payday lenders face regulatory obstacles in Vermont and avoid operating in the state — said the West Lebanon office wasn’t pulling in enough business to justify keeping the location open.

The sole employee who worked at the store has been transferred to the Title Loan location in Plymouth, N.H.. Lopez said.

Payday lenders like Title Loan provide high-interest, short-term cash loans to people in exchange for the title to their automobile.

Consumer advocates say payday lenders prey on people in dire financial need with poor credit and limited ability to repay who frequently end up losing their car.

Over the years the Valley News has published letters from readers criticizing Title Cash’s marketing practices for targeting vulnerable borrowers.

Title Cash has countered it provides a valuable service to people who normally don’t qualify for loans and the company has a good reputation among its customers.

Based in Huntsville, Ala., Title Cash has hundreds of locations across six states. New Hampshire is the only state in the northeast in which it operates, including locations in Claremont, Gorham and Tilton.

Before Title Cash occupied the Main Street building in 2013, the building had been a U.S. Post Office.

Todd Vincent, son of the building’s owner Larry Vincent, said he is currently searching for a new tenant to occupy the 1,300-square foot space. He said Title Cash gave up the lease even though it had four months remaining on the contract.

Although there are currently numerous commercial space vacancies along the Route 12A shopping corridor in West Lebanon, Lopez said he didn’t expect he would reopen at another location in West Lebanon.

“Once we move out of town, it’s very rare we move back into one,” he said.

Lebanon’s Scratch to Move Into Bigger Space

Lebanon crafts and fiber arts store Scratch Supply Co., which opened only 19 months ago, is already moving into a bigger space.

Scratch will move across the courtyard into 1 Court Street, next door to restaurant Three Tomatoes, around June 1, said Travis Griffin, one of the store’s three owners.

“We’re expanding,” Griffin said. “The space is bigger and nicer and we’re going to have effectively double the retail space.”

The larger space will allow Scratch to carry a larger inventory of supplies. “We’ll still focus on fibers, fabrics, a lot of scratch building (materials), paint and an expanded hobby section with supplies for hobbyists,” Griffin said.

Most prominently, the store will be adding a “dye workshop” so customers can hand-dye wool and other fabrics, that will be fitted out with an industrial sink and proper ventilation, Griffin noted.

At a time when many small retail businesses have been closing around the Upper Valley, Scratch has managed to grow, in part because, along with its storefront, it also simultaneously launched an online store that sells all the same products available in the shop in Lebanon, according to Griffin.

“Give or take the time of year, that is a significant component of our business,” Griffin said. “We sell to people all over the country and the world.”

Scratch is owned by Griffin and his wife, Jessica Giordani and Karen Zook, who was recently elected a city councilor in Lebanon.

Hobby Lobby Renovating Claremont Property

Claremont  — Hobby Lobby, the nationwide arts and craft store which signed a lease late last year for the former Kmart store, has begun renovations on the Washington Street property.

Building plans on file with the city show interior and exterior renovations to the roughly 53,000-square-foot space. The property is owned by DSM Realty of Tewksbury, Mass, which also owns the adjacent Market Basket Plaza.

Renovation include a new interior wall that will separate Hobby Lobby from other tenant spaces. The wall is located just to the left of the current entrance. That entrance will be closed off and the new entrance for Hobby Lobby will be located farther to the right, closer to the state liquor, another tenant in the plaza.

Additional work includes new electrical wiring, removing the existing floor, making repairs to the concrete slab and removing existing ceiling tile. There will also be work done on the sidewalks and parking lot. Plans on file show a layout of the Hobby Lobby store and the location of certain products.

There is no indication when the work will be complete or when Hobby Lobby plans to open. Messages left for company officials were not returned.

Hobby Lobby is based in Oklahoma City. In New Hampshire it has stores in Manchester and Nashua and one in Rutland, Vt.

The lease agreement includes options for three extensions of five years each.

News items of interest to the local business community are published in the Business & Money section of the Sunday Valley News. Submissions may be sent by email to: biznotes@vnews.com (high-resolution photographs may be attached in .jpg format). Items are edited for clarity and space.

Correction

 Jessica Giordani is a co-owner of Scratch Supply Co., a Lebanon crafts and fiber arts store which closed it s  "makerspace"  in December. An earlier version of this story misspelled her last name and incorrectly described the store’s offerings.