ELLSWORTH — Construction crews continue to make progress on projects around the city.
The long-anticipated Dairy Queen is under construction, and two buildings have sprung up on the site of the former Town Auto at 206 and 210 High St.
Work on the Dairy Queen restarted this summer after a months-long hiatus. Originally slated to open in December 2017, the 2,600-square-foot building will be situated next to McDonald’s on the site of the former Darling’s auto dealership.
Christopher Thorne, owner of Ellsworth Soft Serve LLC, also runs Dairy Queens in Brewer and Waterville. Thorne could not be reached for comment but previously told The American that he estimated there is about “four months construction to do” at the site. He did not have an opening date.
Down the street, the 15,000-square-foot spaces on the former Town Auto site will eventually house Auto Zone (in the single-unit brick building), with Aspen Dental and Mattress Firm in the larger, multi-unit space.
The dental chain and mattress store have hit rough patches in the past few years.
Mattress Firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month, closing 200 stores around the country, with a total of up to 700 slated to shut their doors in the coming months.
Brick-and-mortar mattress stores have been rattled in recent years by an influx of online mail-order bedding retailers, such as Casper and Helix. Trade publication Furniture Today found that the “direct-to-consumer mattress channel” rose from a 12 percent share of the $14-billion-per-year mattress industry in 2016 to as much as 20 percent in 2018. Mattress Firm did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.
Aspen Dental’s parent company, Aspen Dental Management Inc., has come under scrutiny for its practices.
The chain often serves those who may not be able to afford a trip to the dentist, offering dental work on credit for those who can’t pay. The New York-based company is owned by private equity firm American Securities and operates nearly 700 offices in 38 states, according to its website, with nine in Maine.
In 2014, Aspen Dental Management paid $1 million to patients in Massachusetts to settle allegations that it engaged in deceptive advertising practices and charged patients for services not provided.
Four years earlier, the company paid $175,000 in Pennsylvania to settle complaints about claims including that it advertised “free” exams but charged those with no insurance and that it did not tell patients about 30 percent interest fees on loans for missed payments (the company did not admit wrongdoing as part of the suit).
Aspen Dental also was investigated during a 2013 Senate Judiciary Committee probe into corporate dentistry practices in the Medicaid program and settled charges in New York in 2015 for $450,000 that it interfered with dentists’ decision making.
Aspen Dental did not respond to several requests seeking comment.
In a 2012 interview with PBS’s “Frontline” as part of an investigation into corporate dentistry, Aspen Dental CEO and President Bob Fontana said the company had “no influence on the dentistry” and rejected the idea that Aspen Dental engages in predatory lending practices or sets “production goals” for its doctors.
Fontana said typical patients are often middle-aged, with long-neglected dental needs that often require expensive care.
“We’re big advocates for the patient,” Fontana said.
The Maine Office of the Attorney General has mediated two complaints against the company in the past two years. Staff in the office said they could not provide records farther back, the locations involved or any more details about the complaints.