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A local lumber dynasty winds down

At Evans Lumber Co. in South Charleston, they're used to customers asking for whatchamacallits and thingamajigs.

"We're the kind of hardware and lumber store where you come in and ask and our salesman will go with you and help you find the item you need and give you advice," said owner Don Evans. "We offer the personal touch."

Among the most service-needy customers are those with plumbing problems.

"People don't know what they need to plumb a sink or fix a commode," Evans said. Not only will Evans' employees help customers find what they need and offer advice, "when the customer comes back our guys will ask them if they're happy with it.

"Everybody knows that if you want quality material, go to Evans," he said. "They come in their car and want a piece of lumber cut up — we can cut it up, load it in their car. We'll tie it on for them and put a flag on it."

Evans pauses and then adds, "We'll also advise them what they shouldn't try to haul."

At Evans Lumber, "We can cut anything any way a customer wants it. Our shop, when we were doing it, could cut anything or make virtually anything out of wood - windows, doors. A church uptown had a bell on their tower with a big wheel that was used to ring the bell. They needed to replace the wheel. Our carpenter made the wheel in two pieces because that was the only way to get it up there. Then he put it together.

"Molding - you bring a molding in, we can duplicate it. There's an interesting story on that: Some years ago a person brought in a piece of molding and wanted to know if we could make it. I said, 'I think we have the knives.' We found the knife. It not only matched the molding, it matched a knick in the molding that you could see in the original imprint. That's because we bought all of the knives that Charleston Lumber had when they were operating. Charleston Lumber had obviously used that same knife when they made the original molding."

Evans put the business up for sale a few weeks ago. That means the personal, highly knowledgeable service offered by Evans' dozen employees could become hard to find if the buyer of the property uses it for some other purpose.

Evans said he intends to continue operating for at least another six to nine months, "to take care of customers. The place is for sale but we don't want people to think the shelves are empty because they're not. We will of course have closeout sales later. But for right now the shelves are full, we're in full operation.

"We've accomplished about 95 percent of our goal of taking care of the old-time employees." Evans said. "Most of them have retired except for Junior, who I won't let retire so he'll stay here to the end. There probably will be about two we won't be able to carry to retirement age."

"Junior" is shipping clerk Charles Newhouse Jr.

"He's been with us going on 45 years," Evans said. "He's 70. He could have retired some years ago but I wouldn't let him. We have a natural rivalry. He's a WVU fan. I'm a Marshall fan. This will be our last football season together. We're always harassing each other. He said WVU would never play Marshall (in football)...then he said WVU will never play AT Marshall..."

When asked why the company is for sale, Evans cited several reasons:

n "We of course have been around here so long, we've gone from being the only place to being the last independent around here." Home Depot has 2,248 stores, including a store at Southridge Centre. Lowe's has more than 1,725 stores, including a store at The Shops at Trace Fork. And there's 84 Lumber and Walmart . . .

n "We used to do a tremendous business with Union Carbide, FMC and the Institute plant. We still do a good bit of business with Carbide through their subcontractors but not the volume we used to have with them because they're simply not doing as much."

n "In the last two years our No. 1 and No. 2 contractors passed away." Evans said his father, the late Walter D. "Pat" Evans, put the late C.W. "Bill" Moore in business. "He (Moore) came in one day and talked to my Dad," Evans recalled. "Dad took him to our salesman and said, 'Give him anything he wants.' Dad loaned him money, gave him credit. He (Moore) became one of the biggest homebuilders in the valley. He stayed loyal to us for 50-some years."

n Price has become the Holy Grail of retail in America and it is hard to compete on price with the big box retailers, who can get volume discounts.

n People want service but won't pay for it "until they really need it."

n With the rise of the big box retailers, some wholesalers have gone out of business and it's increasingly difficult to obtain merchandise.  "There are some suppliers who won't come into an area because they don't think there's sufficient business. You can buy by the truckload but not if you only need a half truckload."

Pat Evans' father, along with several investors, founded South Charleston Lumber, later to be known as Evans Lumber Co., in 1929. The size of the company peaked in the 1980s when it operated a sawmill at Clendenin and had 29 employees.

Don Evans said Pat, who died in 2005 at the age of 91, wanted to close some years ago.

"I said, 'You don't want to close when you are still alive,'" Don Evans recalled. "I said, 'You've been here 75 years. As long as we can make a profit and we can take care of the employees - particularly the employees with 25 to 30 years of service, get them close to retirement age, and still provide a service to the community.'

"I'm sure when we're gone a lot of people are going to ask, 'Where are we going to buy good lumber or get this taken care of?' But there weren't enough people taking advantage of that. I think it has a lot to do with a change in social buying habits. Everything is price point now. Quality doesn't mean as much to the newer generations."

Bob Anderson, South Charleston's business recruiter, said the company will be missed. He said Evans Lumber was active in the community for many years. For example, support from Evans Lumber was critical in getting the lights installed at Oakes Field, he said.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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