ELIOT, Maine — Albert and Carrie Raitt have so many customers at A.W. Raitt Stoneyard, they have a wall next to their telephone plastered with little yellow notes reminding them of calls they have to return.
Carrie calls it "The Wailing Wall."Interested people have come from as far away as New Jersey and Washington State to wander the Raitts’ property, sometimes at inconsiderately early hours, in search of the perfect stone for their needs.
The Raitts, who live on Route 236 near the intersection with Route 101, find it hard to believe their stoneyard has become so successful considering they didn’t know anything about the business when they started in 1996. "It took off very quickly," Carrie said of the business.
Their yard is full of unique pieces of stone. They primarily are granite, but a few pieces are of other rock native to New England. Some of the pieces have been turned into birdbaths, some into sculptures and some benches. There are stones intended to be used as steps, and even stones that can be used as diving boards by a pool.
"We try to stick to natural pieces," Carrie said. "Artsy, organic-looking pieces."Some of the stones are left in their natural shape, and others are trimmed "to enhance their characteristics," Albert said.
Between the stones that cover the Raitts’ property and those they store at two other locations, the couple estimate they have many hundreds of tons of stones. According to Albert, there are well over 1,000 pieces.The stones sell for anywhere from $100 to $10,000.
Albert ran a welding service before he got into the stone business. Eight years ago, he was approached by a man who wanted him to put a trailer hitch on his car. The man, who owns a small stone quarry in York, mentioned the stone business to Albert, who was looking for a career change.Albert already had the machinery necessary to move the stones, and the two men decided to go into business together. After a year of booming business, the small quarry could no longer keep up with customers’ demands. Albert and Carrie decided to establish a stone business on their own.
The Raitts have done a lot of reading on the subject and have traveled to Europe to look at other peoples’ work and get ideas."We’ve just watched people who are in the trade and learned from them," Carrie said.Albert has been willing to help others interested in the business by supplying tool catalogues and advice to those who inquire.
Customers include landscape designers and architects, but they are not the only visitors to the property. Photographers and painters often visit the stoneyard to capture Carrie’s beautiful gardens and the unique stone pieces that decorate them.
The Raitts have two daughters and a son, all grown, who have helped out with the stoneyard in one way or another over the years. They have also taken on one part-time employee who works one or two days a week over the summer. They do the majority of the work themselves.
Albert finds his pieces in old quarries, and occasionally from old foundations and properties."If I see something while I’m traveling," Albert said, "I’ll stop and try to find out who owns it."The stones are then "thermalized" — heated with a blowtorch — to bring back their natural color and smooth their texture.
The Raitts sell only decorative and unique pieces. They do not sell materials in bulk, such as for building.
Customers usually hear about the stoneyard through word-of-mouth, or are curious as they drive by. The Raitts’ daughter created a simple Web site for the business, which serves as their only formal advertising. It can be found at www.awraitt.com.
The couple doesn’t keep standard hours for customers, but they are usually around all day on Saturday. Customers can call to make an appointment, or can leave a note in the stoneyard mailbox.
There is a long list of people who are interested in stones from the Raitts. Some are waiting for Albert to find a particular stone they have described to him, or a stone that matches or compliments something he already has in stock.According to Albert, it sometimes takes months or years for him to decide what to do with a particular stone he finds. Generally, he puts most of the pieces in his yard and mulls over them until an idea hits. Once, he said, he brought home a particular stone and walked by it many times before he realized that, turned on a different angle, it would make an excellent birdbath. It sometimes takes just as long for him to find a piece a customer is looking for, he said. Some towns and businesses have also come to Albert for large stone signs. He once sold two large stones to a woman in Manchester by the Sea, Mass., who then built her entire house around them.
The Raitts very much enjoy what they do. "It’s fun," Carrie said. "We’re just trying to have fun with what we’re doing," her husband said.
© 2004 Geo. J. Foster Company