At the end of the week, what may be the longest-running business in Lynnfield is set to close its doors.
This week, Don LeColst of announced to customers that he was shutting down the self-service water fill-up facility that his family has run since 1961. The site has existed as a spring water business since 1901. LeColst reports that while the Pocahontas site, complete with the on-site spring protected under a brick structure, will close, he will remain in the water delivery business and will find another spring water source to work with. The land on which the business sits is actually leased. Two of LeColst's brothers also work in the spring water industry.
LeColst says he is closing Pocahontas down because he cannot afford the upgrades required to bring the business into compliance with town regulations - primarily installing a septic system on the property and making other facility upgrades that he estimates could cost more than $200,000.
At age 61 and after two strokes and some previous investments in upgrading the business, LeColst says it's "got to the point where there's no money left." He added that the business has already let go two part-time workers, retirees who did three-hour shifts for several days a week, and he notes that ironically, he only upgraded the Pocahontas website last month. The latest entry on the company's Facebook page was on March 16, reporting that "our new and improved website is up and running."
At town hall, Board of Health Director Kristin Esposito McRae told Lynnfield Patch on Tuesday that the board has not taken out an actual enforcement action against Pocahontas in moving to require a septic system on the property. A portable toilet reportedly covers the spring water company's needs at this time.
"We've been just asking for some plan to return to compliance," said Esposito, adding that the permit for Pocahontas expires on June 30, and that the board of health had initially been hoping for a plan from LeColst by March 1. She reported that on Tuesday morning, LeColst's attorney informed her the business would voluntarily close at the end of this month.
Esposito also cited a town by-law that prohibits allowing sewage, sink drainage and other similar materials to empty onto the surface of the ground. Like many bottling companies, Pocahontas uses caustic soda to clean its bottles, but that liquid apparently runs out of the rear of the building into the wetlands. An inspection by Marty Katz in Lynnfield in early December found that the "complete plumbing system is in violation of Mass. General Law," including the lack of a restroom and the sink draining into the wetlands. Before closing, the company's position was that as an entity that existed long before the town board of health, it was grandfathered from having to meet these requirements.
LeColst believes that the town is losing a historical resource in the form of what may be its oldest business. A check with the Lynnfield Historical Commission finds few records of whether the spring was used by locals before it became a commercial enterprise over a century ago.
"They should be grateful to any business that has been around as many years as I have," said LeColst. "They should be grateful for the tax revenue."
He also maintains that the land surrounding the Pocahontas spring is mostly wetland, which would require a more expensive pump-up system for the septic installation. Inside, for example, he says that the town wants him to replace his current ceiling tiles with Marlite panels that cost $22 each. Recent health issues have also complicated his effort to bring the business into compliance, he reported.
"This is a hard town to do business in, they want everything modernized," said LeColst, "I'm just tired of the aggravation."
Along with the self-service water fill-up, the 1-acre property has a small office, a couple of delivery trucks, and a small building that is used mostly for filling and cleaning the plastic jugs. A stream runs out from the spring, which cannot be seen at all in the protective building, and meanders down toward the Sagamore Spring Golf Course.
LeColst said that the board of health wanted a plan from him by June 1 for the septic and building update plan, but instead, he is focusing increasingly on his own health and sees little alternative to shutting down. With that in mind, he also recently decided not to carry out a specific required annual state water test (the spring is also tested for bacteria each week) because it would have only cost another $10,000 while bringing him no closer to resolving his matter with the town. Esposito said that the town board of health had been awaiting this test result as well from Pocahontas before the company's closure was announced.
As of Monday morning, he reported that he had probably told about 125 friends and customers of the decision, and that many were "very upset" to hear the news.
That morning, a steady stream of customers drove into the parking lot and filled up as much as 30 gallons of spring water at a time. Many of them have been customers for years and were dismayed to learn that this was the final week in business for Pocahontas. "This is the best water you can get," said John Luongo, who was there with his wife Angela. The two have been driving regularly from Arlington since 2009 to fill up on Pocahontas Spring Water.
"My father always told me, good things come to an end," said LeColst.
Customers who would like to arrange future spring water delivery from LeColst can call him at 978-265-5910 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: Last year, .