The Hartt family of Fort Kent has started their businesses a new following a 2022 fire that destroyed their Main Street building. From left, are, Tracey Hartt, Evelyn Hartt, Jaren Hartt and Brandon Hartt. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — One year after a fire destroyed the businesses Tracey and Evelyn Hartt spent decades building, the couple are back to work and thankful for the community that supported them.

The close-knit Hartts —  including sons Brandon, 28, and Jaren, 19 — were lucky to escape with their lives when a February 2022   fire ripped through the Main Street building they had owned since 2000. Tracey operated a printing and design business there, and Evelyn a beauty parlor.

In shock at first, the Hartts were not sure if they had the energy to rebuild their businesses — Performance Printing and Designs and Tangles Beauty Salon — but with community encouragement and a desire to leave a legacy for their children, the couple knew they had more to offer.

“It’s tough to go from waking up every morning for 30-plus years to go to work and then all of a sudden you don’t have to get up to go to work anymore. It’s kind of weird,” Tracey Hartt said.

Other businesses in the building included Skin Deep/Esthetics By Jillian and SJV Recovery and Behavioral Health Peer Center.

Though Evelyn Hartt wasn’t sure she wanted to buy in and start over again, she and her husband began working again in temporary locations. They then had a chance to buy another building on Main Street.  

“We’re doing this for our children so they can have something someday,” Evelyn Hartt said. “We said it from day one — we’re doing this for the boys.”

Jaren Hartt was the first to discover the fire that Monday morning, Feb. 28, 2022. At the time he was working at the shop while studying at Northern Maine Community College to become an electrician when he discovered a cloud of smoke as he went to fill up the pellet stove.

He alerted his father in the printing shop. His mother, working in the beauty salon, heard her family’s frantic pleas to call 911. Jaren Hartt tried to save some of their belongings, which proved impossible.  

“It was very fast,” Jaren Hartt said.

The Hartts’ son Brandon also works in the printing shop, where he fills several roles. Like many self-sufficient Mainers, Brandon Hartt harnesses ingenuity when necessary, even learning to repair the shop’s embroidery machinery because the nearest person available to fix such equipment lives in New York.

“I’m not an expert, but I’m better than a rookie,” Brandon Hartt said.

The boys rolled up their sleeves along with their parents to perform much of the remodeling at the new location.

The 5,800-square-foot building served most recently as a fitness center. Before that, it was a retail store. Also housed in the new building is Skin Deep/Esthetics By Jillian, which is owned by Jillian Roy, Brandon Hartt’s longtime girlfriend, and Polished Oral Health, LLC, which provides preventative dental services.

Along with tremendous community support, the Hartts are grateful for some financial help along the way. A group of local investors sold the building to the Hartts at a cost Tracey Hartt said was more than fair.

“They did not sell this place for probably what they could have done it for,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Knights of Columbus rented the downstairs of their hall to the Hartts to operate their printing business at a price that barely covered the cost of electricity, he said.

S.W. Collins unloaded trucks of supplies and 4D Carpentry stepped in right away to help with construction.

“There are so many thank yous to go around I don’t know if we can even start,” Tracey Hartt said. “If you’re going to have bad things happen to you, you want it to happen here, for sure.”