The former Filene’s space at the Maine Mall will house the state’s largest furniture store if the business can secure the needed financing.

Gobeil’s Furniture Galleries is negotiating to fill the 120,000-square-foot space, which has been vacant since 2006. The Gray-based business has been pursuing the $2.1 million project since early this year.

Gobeil’s plan calls for a 60,000-square-foot gallery downstairs to showcase its higher-end brands. The upstairs would have a 40,000-square-foot area for more moderately priced furniture and 20,000 square feet devoted to a warehouse outlet.

The store would employ 34 or 35 permanent employees and require about 30 temporary construction jobs.

It would be about three times the size of Gobeil’s store in Gray, which would stay open.

Under the proposed deal between Gobeil’s and the mall, the furniture business would have a short-term lease of three to five years, said Ron Gobeil, the company’s board chairman.

“It’s a great opportunity. It’s only there because of the economy,” he said. “In prosperous times, a store like us couldn’t afford to get in there.”

In boom times, a national chain might provide the most revenue to a mall, but these days shopping centers are also looking to local and seasonal tenants, kiosks and even non-retail tenants like dentists, day care providers and tax specialists, said Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“It really works. One, because the mall is gaining revenue there. But two, it’s also bringing in people for other reasons and they might stay and shop,” he said.

But the recession has also created a difficult borrowing climate. Gobeil said lenders have been leery of such big retail projects.

The negotiations between the mall and Gobeil’s began after the furniture business opened a temporary outlet store last year in the former Linens ‘n Things space at the mall. The outlet was open from July to January.

In the long term, Craig Gorris, the mall’s general manager, would like to see a fashion tenant in an anchor location such as the Filene’s space.

But Gobeil’s brought a lot of traffic to the mall, and its presence may explain why sales of complementary merchandise like electronics and housewares were up significantly during that period, he said.

“Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but they did really good business out of that space,” he said.

Opening a store at the Maine Mall would be quite a development for Ron Gobeil, who fell into the furniture business by accident in 1971.

He and his wife, Eileen, were newlyweds living in Newcastle when they picked out a $300 sofa at Red Barn Furniture. It was $100 beyond their reach, but the store owner let Gobeil — who was working as a shepherd for 200 sheep on a riverside estate — work off the difference by making deliveries.

His career path opened up after he minded the store one day when the owner went home sick. Gobeil gradually acquired a growing stake in the business, which moved to Gray and changed its name to Country Farm Furniture. He gained controlling interest in 1982 and adopted the current name in 1998.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]


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