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Equipment donations help North Country Millworks get back to business


MASSENA - A December 2010 fire destroyed North Country Millworks, LLC, a custom millshop owned by Creig L. and Barbara Donnelly on the South Raquette Road, Massena.

A donation of equipment from a stranger in Virginia helped them get back on their feet.

North County Millworks’s main interest is in producing cabinetry and moldings that can’t be bought or ordered in a store. It’s something they’ve done for 17 years, according to Mr. Donnelly, who follows in his father’s footsteps and has more than 30 years of experience in cabinet building.

“He builds high-end items. We concentrate on high-end cabinetry,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

But on Dec. 29, 2010, their business went up in smoke. The building was a total loss.

“We lost everything in the shop,” Mr. Donnelly said.

“We’re still recuperating,” Mrs. Donnelly added.

There was a loud boom that night and then the fire struck. Volatile fumes in the painting booth of the shop combusted and caused the blaze. Paint thinner, varnish and other flammable liquids inside of the shop, along with piles of wood used to make the cabinets, made it difficult to extinguish the blaze.

“The fire department showed up in no time,” Mrs. Donnelly said, but they were unable to save the shop.

The road back wasn’t easy. Mrs. Donnelly said they had paid their insurance through an escrow account with their mortgage company, and that company let the insurance policy lapse, unbeknownst to the Donnellys until after the fire.

Their policy ended up cancelled, and they were getting nowhere in trying to recoup their losses, she said.

“They kept putting us off and putting us off,” she said.

Then they received a letter that the policy had been sold to another mortgage company. And in the meantime, they were unable to touch the pile of rubble that had been their business, she said.

“We wanted to dig right in,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

They eventually got the situation ironed out and were able to begin thinking about reopening their doors. But all of their equipment was still a loss.

All hope wasn’t lost though, thanks to a stranger in Manassas, Va.

The Donnellys were members of the Cabinet Members Association as was the Manassas man, Matt Sbitani. After the fire, the president of the Cabinet Members Association saw a news clipping about the Massena blaze and posted it in the association’s annual newsletter that’s sent to all of the members.

That’s when the Donnellys heard from Mr. Sbitani, who had an offer for them.

Mrs. Donnelly was making dinner and Mr. Donnelly was on the computer checking his email.

“He called me and I said, ‘What, Creig?’ That’s when he got out of his chair and came down the hallway and said, ‘You have to read this,’” Mrs. Donnelly recalled.

An email from Mr. Sbitani to Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly expressed regrets about the fire.

“The most important thing is that no one was hurt,” he wrote.

And then Mr. Sbitani offered his assistance from several states away.

“If you have not found a replacement for your equipment and machinery, we would like to offer you our equipment from our previous workshop. All is in good working condition and you are welcome to just come with a large truck to pick it all up. We would like to offer it at no cost to you in hopes that you will find a new beginning,” he said.

The items he had available included a 14-inch panel saw with 10-foot sliding table, 10-inch Powermatic table saw, 12-inch Jet jointer, 20-inch Jet planer, Jet tilting spindle shaper, Delta stock feeder, Delta disc/belt sander, 10-foot by 10-foot by 7-foot open spray booth, Murphy Rogers dust collector and Speed Air direct drive air compressor with an 80-gallon tank.

Mrs. Donnelly read the email and “there was just dead silence.”

Mr. Donnelly said Mr. Sbitani also ran a cabinet shop and had built a new shop, but he still kept the old shop set up. And he was offering his equipment to the Donnellys.

Friends and family made donations and set up a jamboree and raised money for the trip to Manassas to pick up the machines.

“One of the tools in his old shop was a sliding table saw. Creig always dreamed of having one. He got his dream tool,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

Also helping the Donnelly family recover was local businessman Vance T. Fleury, owner and president of RiverCrest Enterprises, Inc.

“Vance has actually helped us get some very nice jobs,” Mr. Donnelly said. “Before we were open, Vance called and said he had a big project coming up and wondered if we were going to be able to do it.”

“I worked with Creig over the past three or four years doing cabinetry for different projects,” Mr. Fleury said.

One of those projects was a home that’s a cover feature in a Canadian magazine called “Homes and Cottages.” It showcases a home that was done by both Mr. Fleury’s crew and North Country Millworks.

Today, the Donnellys are back open for business and offering everything from motorized cabinets and touch systems for drawers to custom moldings and cabinetry to keep items like a flat-screen television hidden until theyre needed.

“We aren’t totally back on our feet, but we wouldn’t have been able to get back into operation if it wasn’t for the help of friends, family and a ‘stranger’ in Virginia,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “We owe him and his wife everything.”

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