Longtime friends Mark Axelsen, at left, and Matt Almy plan to open Maine Street Auto next month at the corner of Main Street and Winn Road in their Cumberland hometown. In the meantime, their leased garage space up the road at Revolutionary Gas & Tire opens Monday, May 25. Contributed

CUMBERLAND — Despite being in the midst of a pandemic-induced economic downturn, some local entrepreneurs believe it’s worth treading uncertain waters to open a business.

Co-owners Mark Axelsen and Matt Almy of Cumberland plan to open the service center portion Monday, May 25, at a garage they’re subleasing at Revolutionary Gas & Tire, a longtime 296 Main St. service station owned by C.N. Brown and leased by Jeff Dalbec since 2017.

They will also open Maine Street Auto, an independent pre-owned vehicle sales and detailing operation, is to open in mid-June at 174 Main St., at a former Big Apple at the corner of Main Street and Winn Road.

“Our deal has been to do this on our own at some point,” Axelsen said. “We made the decision to go for it in October (2019), and I don’t have any regrets; I know Matt doesn’t have any regrets” about opening at this time.”

Axelsen called the economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic “a challenge, but not insurmountable.”

“I truly believe that I’d rather go into this at this point, at the lowest point, because it’s going to break at some point, and we’ll be in good shape when (it does),” Axelsen said.

The two plan to start with about 25 vehicles on the 1.1-acre lot, with an eye to showcase 40 in about 10,000 square feet of display space. Work on the 70-year-old, 1,900-square-foot building has included rebuilding walls, a new roof, and a 500-square-foot expansion, which will be used for detailing.

Almy and Axelsen put in about $180,000 in improvements since taking possession March 11, Axelsen said.

Bill Najpauer, executive director of the Midcoast Economic Development District, said outside of some creative ventures, such as one personal protective equipment producer, he hasn’t seen any new businesses launch in recent weeks.

“Any time anyone opens a business, it’s a bold idea,” Najpauer said. “The risk that you’re taking, particularly with the COVID crisis, is dependent on what their customer base is, and who they’re marketing to. If it’s (specialized) retail, probably less so … as opposed to a general merchandise or a clothing store, or a restaurant.”

The risk of opening a business can depend on how leveraged the owners are – how much debt they carry on the operation, Najpauer explained.

Some of the businesses with which he interacts are “highly leveraged, and so the slightest downturn can send them into a spiral,” he said. “… They don’t have the flexibility, if they hit a hard time, to pull out cash from savings.”

Greg Boulos – senior partner with the Boulos Company, a Maine-New Hampshire commercial real estate firm – recently brokered a lease with Eastern Mountain Sports for space his company owns at 4 Mill St. in Freeport. That lease was signed prior to the pandemic, and Boulos “structured the economics so that it made sense for them to be there,” but an agreement could have been delayed had the timing been different, he said.

When the pandemic began and many businesses shuttered, “you could hear crickets; it was very, very quiet,” Boulos said. But as people working from home adjusted to “the new norm,” many deals in place prior to mid-March were closed, although some fell apart, he said.

Boulos, who has seen four recessions during his four decades in business, said the current situation is “the hardest in terms of the swiftness in which everything shut down. But I also think we’re going to come out of this relatively quickly.”

That recovery won’t come in the V-shape, with as sharp an incline back to normal by June 15, “but I do think … come the end of the year, things are going to look a whole lot better. There are going to be some casualties along the way, which is unfortunate, but I think overall we’ll be fine.”

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