ROCKLAND — Richard Rockwell has seen workers for his businesses being squeezed out of the local housing market.

The businessman realized without a solution to the growing housing shortage for workers, businesses would not be able to operate. His solution was to buy houses on the market and convert them into places for employees of his businesses to live.

Richard Rockwell

Richard Rockwell, through Rockland Realty LLC, has purchased six residences in Rockland and one lot in Thomaston during the past five months. This is in addition to other residential and commercial acquisitions in the Rockland area dating back to 2008.

Rockwell said the houses will be improved and used for employee housing, assisting chefs, accountants and workers in the trades.

Rockland Realty — the limited liability company consisting of Rockwell and Patty Farnsworth — has purchased houses at 3 Trinity St., 11 Trinity St., 48 Front St., 120 Limerock St., 112 Pleasant St. and 19 Ocean St. All the acquisitions in Rockland have occurred since February. He also purchased 72 Wadsworth St. in Thomaston during this same period.

Rockland Realty also owns — purchased in previous years — 110 Union St. in Rockland and two adjacent vacant residential lots on Wadsworth Street in Thomaston. Rockwell, through Granite Street Associates, also purchased an apartment building at 5 Granite St. in Rockland and an undeveloped adjacent lot on that street.

The company also owns three downtown commercial buildings in Rockland — 429, 435 and 449 Main St.

Rockwell’s roots to the region go back generations. His grandfather was Sam Zwecker, who owned the Port Clyde Packing Company which operated sardine plants including ones in St. George and Rockland. His grandfather had started off selling the herring to restaurants and hotels in large cities. His grandfather created the process of canning and cooking herring and sold them as sardines, he said.

Rockwell founded and operated security businesses for more than 40 years. A 2013 article in Security Systems News noted that he was the majority shareholder and served as a chairman of Henry Brothers Electronics before it was sold to Kratos Defense and Security Systems in 2010. The 2013 article further noted Rockwell was owner and chairman of three security companies: Main Security Surveillance in Augusta since 2005; New York Merchants Protective Co. in Mineola, N.Y. since late in 2011; and 123 Lock & Key in Bristol, N.H., which has been part of Maine Security Surveillance since 2011.

In 2013, he was named Chief Executive Officer and chairman of independent integrator Unlimited Technology Inc. of Pennsylvania.

He had lived in New Jersey but now has a home in St. George.

Rockwell’s first acquisition in Rockland was the historic Hewett Block at 449 Main St. in 2008 which had housed the Grossman-Faber law firm on the street level. Rockwell commissioned a renovation of the 1873-built building that was praised by Maine Preservation for its attention to detail.

“This project sensitively rehabilitated the interior spaces while restoring the exterior of the building to its nineteenth-century appearance,” Maine Preservation noted.

In a 2010 interview, Andrea Palise of Greenworks Development, Inc. of Lincolnville, the owner’s representative overseeing the renovations, said Rockwell had noticed the transition of Main Street on the southern end with the Farnsworth and Strand Theatre projects. The Strand Theatre had undergone a major 18-month renovation in 2004-2005 after being purchased by the Simmons family.

“He (Rockwell) wants to be the catalyst for changes on the northern part of Main Street,” Palise said in that 2010 interview. The cost of renovations to the Hewett Block was estimated at $1.5 million.

The street and lower back level of the building now house Ada’s Kitchen.

Rockwell focused the same attention on 435 Main St. which is now home to Main Street Markets which opened in July 2015.

“In giving thought to the highest, best use of the building, it was clear from the start that Rockland’s emerging food scene as well as the permanent community needed a one-stop source for high-quality, organic, locally produced food,” Rockwell said in 2015.

Ada’s and Main Street Markets are now institutions in the downtown.

Businesses need employees, but the housing market is making it increasingly difficult to find them.

“Our workers are being squeezed out of the area due to this ridiculous escalating market,” he said. “There are not enough people to support the community’s needs.”

He said the houses he has bought are either being renovated for employee housing or are already being rented to employees of Ada’s, Main Street Market and Rockland Realty. The house on Ocean Street in Rockland was demolished because of its dilapidated condition but he plans to build a residence or two there. The rents are $600 to $700 per month, he said.

Rockland Realty also purchased 311 Park St. in Rockland in March which had been the location for Harbor Hounds kennel. The building is being converted into a workshop for the restoration of the houses being acquired.

In addition to doing his part to provide workforce housing, the entrepreneur is working to restore one of the most historic buildings in the region. In June 2015, Rockland Realty purchased a 5-acre lot and building on Route 131 in South Thomaston that had been known as the Anderson sisters property.

He is having the 300-year-old plus building restored brick by brick and board by board. Boards that are removed are measured and replaced. The structure was first built before the United States was a country when the first European settlers were trying to survive, he said. The location was ideal for settlers, however, with access to fresh water and the St. George River which gave them access to the east coast.

He is working with Maine Preservation on this project. The restoration has been hampered by the pandemic and the lack of tradesmen.

He noted there are trails on one side to the Weskeag River and the other side to the St. George River. Rockwell wants to return the property to focus on local sustainability.

“We hope to develop the entire site to support and even further develop the local bee and bird populations. We hope it will be a destination for local nature enthusiasts that can utilize the neighboring trails to stop in and enjoy the local fauna and flora,” he stated in a blog on the web site about the restoration.

The goal for the building will be a portal for artists to exhibit their work. He wants this arts center to be one for artists of all types who will have complete control of their work. Artists of all types — painters, sculptures, singers — will be welcome to the center.

Rockwell, who paints and has an art degree, said there are not enough portals for the number of creative people in the community.

Two of the houses purchased in the past month by Rockland Realty LLC includes these two at 3 Trinity St., left, and 48 Front St. Photo by Stephen Betts

The former Anderson sisters property on Route 131 in South Thomaston is being restored to its original state. Photo by Stephen Betts