BRISTOL — A ringing telephone heralds the cha-ching of a cash register to a newly opened business, but not at Newfound Properties where phone calls inspire the dread of a death knell.
Last spring Michael Capsalis opened the real estate agency at 802 Lake Street, investing some $250,000 in renovating the building and thousands more in a roadside sign, "for sale" placards, stationary and a website. He also chose what he believed was a promising telephone number from those offered him by FairPoint Communications — 744-8400 — which was displayed on all the firm's materials and advertising. .
"I chose because it was the best number," Capsalis said. "When they told me it was available, I said 'you're kidding' and took it." He said that when the phones were installed in May "the tail lights weren't even out of the driveway" when the phone began ringing — for Waste Management, the huge trash hauling and disposal firm that counts the City of Laconia among its clients. It manages the city's transfer station on Meredith Center Road.
Capsalis said that he quickly discovered 744-8400 had been the number of Waste Management's facility in New Hampton for more than 30 years before it was disconnected one year and one month before it was assigned to Newfound Properties. He said that Waste Management closed its office in New Hampton, but took no steps to reroute calls to the facility or to remove the number from its website or from telephone directories.
"We've received more than 4,000 calls for Waste Management since we opened last May," Capsalis said, which he calculated represented 97-percent of all calls to his agency. "They call day and night, every day of the week, Saturdays and Sundays," he continued. "Their customers call and their employees still have the 744-8400 number."
Capsalis said that one woman called repeatedly to complain that her television set had not been collected and another woman from Laconia frequently calls to have her dumpster emptied. "We're getting all their grief," he remarked. "We're getting cussed at. We're running two businesses and 97 percent of it we don't get paid for." He said that truck drivers call at all hours of the day and night asking someone to open the gate at the New Hampton facility, which still serves as a waste transfer station.
Capsalis said he approached the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission and was told that the number for a local business can be reassigned one year after it has been disconnected while the number of a national business must be disconnected for three years before it can be reassigned.
Although Waste Management serves 27-million residential commercial, industrial and municipal customers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, FairPoint has claimed that 744-8400 is a local number. Capsalis said that last fall FairPoint offered to assign him a new number and asked how much it would cost his firm to change all its informational materials. "They even agreed to waive the change fee," he said, "but since I sent them the estimate in October they have refused to respond to correspondence and phone calls."
Capsalis said that he spent two months trying to persuade Waster Management to remove the number from their websites and finally reached someone he knows only as Patrick in Chicago who finally saw to it after being threatened with legal action.
So far Capsalis has been been reluctant to request a new telephone number. He estimated the cost of replacing all the materials bearing the hexed number would approach $10,000. "It may not sound like much," he remarked, "but I haven't got it."
"We're at our wits end," Capsalis said, adding that one of his agents told him " 'I'm tired of being a secretary for Waste Management.' We don't want any money", he continued, "We just want it fixed."
In the meantime, Capsalis and his agents are relying on their cell phones.
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