Harbor Freight Tools has doubled its Maine presence in last year

BY Maureen Milliken

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The Harbor Freight Tools at 369 Main St. in Waterville is the California discount tool company's' sixth in Maine.

Harbor Freight Tools, a California company with more than 900 stores, has doubled its Maine presence in the past year, opening stores in Rockland, Waterville and the struggling Aroostook Centre Mall in Presque Isle.
The Waterville store is the most recent addition to the company’s six Maine locations. It opened at the beginning of the year in 15,075 square feet in the Pine Tree Mall on Main Street, just off Interstate 95 Exit 130.
Another 6,384 square feet was added to a vacant space in the building to house the discount tool company. The company leases its space. The building also has an Advance Auto Parts store.
The Presque Isle store opened in August, and the Rockland store opened shortly before the one in Waterville. The company already had stores in Auburn, Bangor and South Portland.
Rob Branchflower, of National Commercial Brokers, who represents the company in Maine, said Harbor Freight is “opening stores selectively” throughout the state. The first one opened five years ago.
The company also does a brisk online business, but Branchflower said that it’s finding success with brick-and-mortar stores as well. He said that Harbor Freight is “opportunity driven, and if the correct opportunity presents itself, they will review the possibility.”
On the Harbor Freight website, it says the company opens a new store every three days.
“Typically Harbor Freight looks for no less than 16,000 square feet of second-generation space in a well-located existing shopping center,” Branchflower said.
He said that the shopping center should have a prominent location in a major regional shopping district near compatible stores, like supermarkets or discount department stores.
He said the store also is usually within close proximity to a Home Depot or Lowes home center.

While the location in the Presque Isle mall may seem out of character, Branchflower said it’s a good fit for the chain.
“It’s true the mall has struggled, but Presque Isle is the classic definition of a well-located regional shopping district that is enhanced by an excellent road system,” he said. “Harbor Freight Tools secured a prominent location in a trade area with good co-tenants who service the everyday needs for goods and services for people living with 30 to 40 miles from the store.”
Harbor Freight opened Aug. 15, 2017, in the former Sears location at the shopping center.
The mall, which dates to 1993 and has 500,000 square feet of retail space, was purchased at a foreclosure auction by Wells Fargo last October, two months after Harbor Freight’s arrival.
The store opening in the mall was cited by the Aroostook Partnership 2017 Economic Development report as a business highlight for Aroostook County. Overall, there was $160 million in business investment and 243 jobs created in the county last year, according to that report.
Other Aroostook County business openings were the county’s third Tractor Supply Co. store, in Madawaska; TRP Truck Parts, at Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone; and a $3.1 million Acme Monaco expansion at the Presque Isle Industrial Park.

The Waterville location is part of a mini economic surge at that end of Main Street — a Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened next door a year ago in a former Friendly’s location that had been empty for two years.
The area also has a large shopping plaza with a Hannaford supermarket across the street, as well as a Walmart and Home Depot, among other stores.
The Rockland store opened at 265 Camden St., late last year in a shopping center that also has an Ocean State Job Lots and a Dollar Tree store.
While Harbor Freight Tools has been around since 1977 — it began as a mail order company and opened its first retail store, in California, in 1980 — its expansion to Maine is fairly recent. The South Portland, Auburn and Bangor stores opened in 2013 and 2014, also in areas where there is a heavy retail presence.
Branchflower said Maine is an appealing state for the company.
“Mainers are frugal, hardworking do-it-yourselfers that appreciate good quality tools at a reasonable price,” he said.