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Equipment donation helps North Country Millworks reopen

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

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

North County Millworks’s main interest is producing cabinetry and moldings that can’t be bought in a store. It’s something it has 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,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

But on Dec. 29, 2010, their business went up in smoke.

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

There was a loud boom that night and then the fire struck. Volatile fumes in the shop’s painting booth combusted and caused the blaze. Paint thinner, varnish and other flammable liquids in the shop, along with piles of wood used to make 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, and that company let the insurance policy lapse, unbeknownst to theDonnellys until after the fire.

Their policy ended up canceled, and they were getting nowhere in trying to recover 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 Cabinet Members Association president saw a news clipping about the blaze and posted it in the annual newsletter.

That’s when the Donnellys heard from Mr. Sbitani, who had an offer. An email message he sent the Donnellys expressed regrets about the fire.

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

And then he offered assistance.

“If you have not found a replacement for your equipment and machinery, we would like to offer you our equipment from our previous workshop,” he wrote. “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.”

Friends and family made donations and raised moneyfor the trip.

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

Today, the business is open and offering everything from motorized cabinets and touch systems for drawers to custom moldings and cabinetry.

“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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