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Home show heartens builders, remodelers

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Groton - A couple approached the Nutmeg Building & Remodeling table a bit tentatively Saturday during Eastern Connecticut's Premier Home Show at the Mystic Marriott.

They wanted to know if the Ledyard-based company could help them with some minor home repairs. Perhaps too minor, they fretted.

"We'll put on a door knob for you," Chuck Gimbut, a carpenter manning Nutmeg's display, said.

He wasn't necessarily joking.

"Any size job," Gimbut said. "If people are willing to spend money to improve their homes, we're willing to help them out. We like working for the do-it-yourselfers."

Homeowners and dwellers from the region and beyond took Exit 88 of Interstate 95 to reach the Marriott, where they stopped at tables occupied by more than 175 vendors who filled the hotel's well-carpeted ballroom space as well as a tent erected in the parking lot.

The event, a first-time collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and the Builders and Remodelers Association of Eastern Connecticut, was open until 9 p.m. and continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

"We've gotten a lot of leads," Gimbut said in the late afternoon. "It's a good show. The change of venue is nice."

Other vendors were less enthusiastic about the annual event's move to the Marriott from the Mohegan Sun casino, its home in previous years. Some who didn't want to be quoted said Saturday's turnout was disappointing.

"I like the atmosphere here; it's warmer, more inviting," said Andrea Person-Mish, owner of T.M. Builders of Uncasville, who attended previous shows at the casino.

She said the prevailing economic conditions have caused her company to pursue more commercial projects than private homes and to travel farther to find them. She said the company is working on an assisted-living development in Glastonbury.

But, she said, while commercial clients rarely attend home shows, the scene at the Marriott suggested the residential side of the business is picking up.

"People are starting to remodel," Renee Chaplin, a T.M. Builders assistant, said. "They're fixing bathrooms, kitchens, putting in new windows."

Norton Wheeler, owner of the Mystic River Building Co. in Mystic and an organizer of the show, said he had set up several appointments during the event's first day. He said his company specializes in new home design as well as remodeling.

Andy Gil, the company's general manager, said he focuses on energy efficiency, an aspect of great interest to today's homeowners and builders.

In general, Wheeler said, things are improving in the construction industry.

"In the last six months, there's been a positive uptick in opportunities," he said. "We had a great year last year and have a number of (projects) under contract. Years ago, you'd have a backlog of a year or two worth of contracts. … It would be nice to get back to the good old days."

At the table of a leading building-supply company, a representative agreed that the home-repair and remodeling business is far more brisk than new home construction. He said much damage caused last fall by Superstorm Sandy still needs to be fixed and that contractors and suppliers are traveling the coastline between Narragansett, R.I., and Guilford offering their services.

Not all of the show's vendors are strictly involved in construction.

Behind one table stood Kim Lowe, who along with her husband Tony owns Lowe Carting & Recycling, a New London-based company that provides residential trash pick-up, junk removal and dumpster rentals. Lowe said she was encouraged by the focus of the show's clientele, if not overwhelmed by their numbers.

"The people who are here are interested," she said. "They're here for a reason. People have questions. They're not just milling around."

Lowe said the companies exhibiting at the show have survived the economic downturn and are stronger for it. Those whose business had "fallen off," she said, "aren't here."


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