HOULTON, Maine — It is the end of an era in Houlton where longtime family business Furniture and Floors North will close its doors as the last furniture store in a town that once supported three.
Owner Joe Fitzpatrick said the decision to close was not an easy one, given the many long-standing relationships he has developed with customers over his 33 years of operations.
The store’s final day will be Saturday, Sept. 25.
“I built this company on the motto of giving people the best service we possibly could,” Fitzpatrick said. “Unfortunately, so much of that [sales] has gone online. Business has been good to us, right up until the last couple of years.”
Changes in how and where people purchase furniture, supply chain issues and other industry changes, as well as an opportunity to sell his current building, were among the primary reasons Fitzpatrick gave for deciding it is the right time to say goodbye. He first tried selling the entire business with the building, but after a couple years with no bites, decided to simply close the business and sell the property during what has been a real estate boom for Aroostook.
The building was purchased by the newly formed Southern Aroostook Emergency Medical Service and will be renovated into that company’s base of operations.The ambulance service will serve several southern Aroostook towns.
“We went a long time without any bites at all,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, Joe’s daughter and general manager of the company. “This past summer, things picked up and we had several [people] interested in the building. So it is time.”
The furniture business has been a way of life for Fitzpatrick for as long as he can remember. For several years, he worked for McGillicuddy Furniture, formerly located on Water Street in Houlton, before deciding to start his own business.
It was a decision he looks back upon fondly.
“I was very confident it would work,” he said. “I had a pretty good business plan. When we first started, every nickel I made we slapped back into the store. There was no question in my mind it was going to work.”
He first opened Furniture and Floors North at 60 North St., the current site of Tang’s Chinese Restaurant, and spent 15 years there before moving to its 45 Access Rd.location.
Changes in consumer’s habits over the years was another driving force in his decision to close. He cited online businesses for taking a big chunk out of the local retail market, as evidenced by the fact that once he closes, Houlton will no longer have a locally owned furniture store, when there used to be three.
An inability to get products shipped to his storefront because manufacturers cannot make chairs, sofas and other furniture fast enough to satisfy the demand has been another major hurdle for the past few years.
“Today, I probably have less furniture in the store than I did when I first opened up back in 1988,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with companies simply not being able to get products to us. What used to be 18-30 days is now anywhere from eight months to 18 months to get merchandise.”
Fitzpatrick said he had merchandise that has been ordered and paid for by customers that will not be arriving until after they close. Many of those orders had to be canceled.
“I will certainly miss the people,” he said. “We have so many longtime, loyal customers. Many of those people I picked the phone up and called them myself. They were more than customers. They were friends.”