It’s unusual for a business to celebrate its 100th birthday while simultaneously planning a retirement party, but manager Mike Schwehr and his crew at C.H. Carpenter Lumber company are doing just that.
“It’s a little hard because you’ve put so much into it,” Schwehr said of the closing. “It’s tough. They’ve been good to us around here, the community’s supported us well. We’ve been thanking everybody for everything they’ve done over the years.”
The last in-law to the Carpenter family and owner of the company is a woman named Lee Andran, and Schwehr said she is getting ready to retire and decided to sell off the company’s assets and close its remaining stores.
“They decided to close all the company’s stores, in the Twin Cities and all over. There’s no family left that wanted to keep it going,” he said. “It isn’t anything that the local economy did to us, it’s just they’d been in it for years and wanted to be done.”
Schwehr said the decision was made between Thanksgiving and Christmas of last year, and that the number of employees has steadily been trickling down since the closure was announced.
“Starting (today) it will be just me,” he said. “Basically what we’re doing now is just selling assets. I’m working here and in Jamestown selling the properties, trucks and whatever’s left of the inventory.”
The C.H. Carpenter Lumber Company began in Minneapolis in 1896, and the business soon expanded into North Dakota with the purchase of retail lumberyards in Jamestown, Hastings, Litchville, Luverne, Oriska, Pillsbury, Rogers and Valley City. Carpenter has served Valley City continuously since 1912, when the lumberyard next to the Northern Pacific railroad tracks was purchased from the McCulloch-Mudgett Company.
While many of the smaller yards closed during the Depression, The Litchville store held on until 1984, and Valley City and Jamestown remained in business until the closing announcement last fall.
While there isn’t a set closure date for the store, Schwehr said the are getting close, as he is currently liquidating merchandise for the former Jamestown and Twin Cities locations.
“We’re the only Carpenter Lumber store open right now,” he said. “The basic stuff is really getting down. We’re not ordering anything, so we’re not technically open for business, just getting rid of what we currently have.”
Lumber and assorted tools and fixtures are still available in the store, and each day a steady stream of customers wanders the aisles for possibly the last time, saying their goodbyes. “You get your guys that are loyal to us and hate to see us go,” said Schwehr, who “started outside and worked his way in” at Carpenter straight out of college in 1979. He has been with the company ever since, so the end is especially bittersweet for him. While he’s not sure where he will head next, Schwehr made sure to thank those who helped him build a career and a living for over 30 years.
“It’s been a good relationship with us and the community,” he said.