New England Kenworth recently marked their grand opening at a new site on the Presque Isle-Caribou Road. At the store are, from left, Service Manager Wayne Ayotte; parts salesperson Riley Robbins; and Parts Manager Sandy Ayotte. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

CARIBOU, Maine — When Sandra and Wayne Ayotte moved into their New England Kenworth business from Limestone to Caribou, they thought they’d see an uptick in traffic.

They had no idea business would nearly double in a few months.

Trucking is vital in Aroostook County. Because the area is large and more isolated from other parts of Maine, goods travel in and out mostly by truck, including the area’s greatest commodities of forest products, potatoes and produce.

Having just become an official Kenworth dealership and the only one in Aroostook County, the Caribou store has doubled its staff and is hiring more to keep up with demand.

“The service department is having a hard time keeping up,” said Sandy Ayotte, who serves as parts manager. “We have walk-ins now that we didn’t see before. We’re hiring all the time.”

Headquartered in Concord, New Hampshire, New England Kenworth sells heavy- and medium-duty trucks and provides parts and service in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Pasquale Alosa, an Italian immigrant, started the business as a repair shop in 1917, according to the company. Descendants still own it and keep it family-oriented, Ayotte said.

She and husband Wayne, the service manager, ran the company’s previous parts store on the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. But the corporate office decided to move them to a more visible location, which opened in October. The Caribou store held its grand opening recently, which several Alosa family members attended.

Having passed muster by Kenworth officials, the business is now an official dealership of the truck manufacturer.

The business doesn’t have truck inventory on site yet, but has a close relationship with the Bangor store, Ayotte said. Sales representative Russell Stanley travels to The County frequently to complete sales, and will send trucks to customers. The store expects to stock trucks soon.

The shop has eight staff members, double what it had in Limestone. Since the business moved off the remote base to the busy Route 1 stretch between Presque Isle and Caribou, Ayotte is amazed at the business they’ve picked up.

New England Kenworth operates other Maine stores in Bangor, Lebanon and Portland, along with Concord and Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Burlington and Rutland, Vermont.

Though the industry is recovering from the pandemic, there are still shortages of parts such as microchips, Ayotte said. That means trucks are still hard to get. The industry itself is a bit of a rollercoaster, with bigger freight trucking companies thriving. Some smaller agents do well, and others struggle.

But the boost in traffic is encouraging, she said. The location makes the difference. At Loring, the location was remote and saw few walk-in customers.

“This is such a busy highway,” she said. “It’s a perfect spot. It just put us at the center.”