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June 28, 2018

Iconic Ellsworth building finds new purpose as antiques shop

Courtesy / Loon Hollow LLC
Courtesy / Loon Hollow LLC
Tom and Shelly Bradsell have repurposed the former Moto-Car building in Ellsworth as an antique and artisan shop.

The former Moto-Car dealership on the Ellsworth-to-Bangor road has been rehabilitated in a way that honors its eclecticism but makes it usable as the home of an antique shop called 1A Relics.

Located at 444 Bangor Road, four miles from downtown Ellsworth, the building features turrets, fanciful exterior metal work and two ocular windows, one of them 6 by 9 feet high and set into a part of the building that resembles a barrel on its side but which Bradsell calls "the hamster wheel."

"You should see the inside. There are doors to nowhere," said co-owner Shelly Bradsell, who purchased the building with her husband Tom Bradsell in December. For a video of the site, see 1A Relic's Facebook page.

The couple purchased the property, which includes four acres, for $125,000 and invested $270,000 plus long hours of sweat equity in its rehabilitation, which began mid-January.

The shop will sell antiques sourced at auctions by the Bradsells plus the work of photographers, fine artists and artisans from around Maine. A grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, with the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce set to do a ribbon cutting at 12:15 p.m. and food trucks on site.

A 1920s barn shaped by the '70s

Courtesy / LoopNet
Courtesy / LoopNet
A turret, ocular windows and wavy decorative elements are part of what catches the eye at 444 Bangor Road.

According to a May 2014 Bangor Daily News article, the building, which had been renovated extensively over the years, originally was a barn constructed in 1923. In 2014, it was owned by Terrence Pinkham, who told the newspaper he bought the building in 1975, when he was 22 years old and a recent graduate from what was then called Husson College in Bangor.

He extensively remodeled it in subsequent years and ran it as Moto-Car, which sold classic cars. Including unfinished showrooms, it had 6,340 square feet of living space. Features included a sunken living room, exotic wood trim and flooring, telephone booth, fire pole, cupolas, old doors transplanted from hotels and courthouses and three bays of basement garage space.

But in May 2014, the property was offered to the highest bidder at a foreclosure auction by Keenan Auction Co. According to seller's representative John Vogell, with ERA Dawson-Bradford Co., a Bangor businessman, Butch Foss, was the high bidder but didn't end up doing anything with the property.

"One man from New York wanted to turn it into art museum," Vogell said. "I had one person who was going to put a used car dealership there. I had four or five people who were going to turn it into apartments, because there's quite a bit of parking there. But they couldn't figure out how to do it" because of the building's unique configurations.

'The building always intrigued me'

Courtesy / Loon Hollow LLC
Courtesy / Loon Hollow LLC
Curvy spaces, circular and arched windows and door frames, doors and stairs to nowhere.

Enter the Bradsells. Shelly Bradsell is a registered nurse who grew up in Canada but moved to Florida right out of nursing school in the early 1990s because there were no jobs in Canada. In Florida, she met Tom, who grew up there. Both worked for DaVita International, a dedicated dialysis services provider. Their jobs allowed them to work from home.

"We flew all over the place," she said. "We just needed to be near an airport."

Six years ago, they moved to Maine so that she could be closer to her parents in New Brunswick, Canada.

They got hooked on attending auctions in search of antiques. When Shelly's job ended last June, she wondered what to do next.

"This building always intrigued me," she said. "It's just kind of oddly seductive."

The renovation was extensive. The first floor had been a car showroom, but the second floor was largely unfinished. Aside from the shell of the original barn, the couple found the exteriors and interiors of all of the additional sections had been assembled from materials like corrugated metal taken from old chicken barns, parts like tailpipes off old cars and aluminum shaped into decorative elements.

"There were full-size telephone poles inside the building trying to hold up a catwalk that was never finished," she said. "We took those out. There are a lot of steel beams in here taken from bridges and other places. We left those in." Many of the rooms are odd-shaped — "a lot of wave and curves. It makes you think you're walking into a fancy yacht." Some of the flooring is made of granite slabs; others sections have polished hardwood flooring or round mosaics.

It needed new insulation. The electrical and plumbing systems were redone. New roofs were put in on the barn portion and the hamster wheel and roof repairs were done elsewhere. New ship lap walls were installed and any wood that was removed was re-purposed.

Overall, she said, the goal was "matching and adding to the aesthetic versus taking away from what was already there."

The couple worked on the building many days until midnight, she said.

To attract vendors, she put a sign up at the road.

"It didn't take long for word to spread," she said. "I've rented all the space, splitting up the building so they could have the sizes they want. Some want small, some want big, some have taken the quirky spots."

Tom is still with DaVita, but this is now Shelly's day job. As an extrovert who, with DaVita, worked as an educator giving lectures to thousands, "I love people, so this is great for me," she said.

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