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Equipment donations help North Country Millworks get back to business

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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 mainly produces customized cabinetry and moldings. 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.

“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 said.

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

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

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 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: equipment from his business’s previous workshop for free.

The items 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.

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

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

“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.

“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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