By Beth N. Gray
BROOKSVILLE – The briefly welcoming building has been shuttered for a bleak 10 years. Vandals broke in and stripped away copper wire. Springs relaxed, leaving gaps in airtight door closures. The unused sprinkler system was iffy.
Over the past few months, tinkerers and testers have been afoot. Local building contractors are counting the days.
“The market is back,” said Christopher Brown, local operations manager for 84 Lumber, which is reopening this month in its once bustling site at 2281 S Broad St. The national building supply company was founded in 1956 in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania.
The Hernando County outlet opened in the early 2000s, just before the recession descended and building construction collapsed. It soon closed its doors.
Now, said Brown, “a lot of builders are excited about our coming back. There’s a lot of potential here.”
The Hernando Oaks development has opened a new section for home construction nearby, while Southern Hills has undertaken new building. Both communities south of Brooksville have indicated they’ll be on 84 Lumber’s customer list.
84 Lumber — lumber its No. 1 commodity — is a sort of niche market, “for small builders and remodelers who may not have a lot of options in Hernando County,” Brown said, as opposed to contractors building a hundred homes at a time.
“It served us well in the past, said remodeler and custom home builder Jeff West, president of Nature Coast Builders Association. "A lot of us will be opening accounts with them.”
Local builders need a lumber supplier in Hernando County that can service them quickly, West said. Big box stores must order from their warehouses, so delivery can take two weeks.
84 Lumber’s 35,000-square-foot Brooksville store, and its yard, will have plenty of stock on hand. Larger sales and service centers in Plant City and Ruskin will serve as backup, and also provide kitchen, bath and other specialists to consult on designs. And they’ll supply windows, doors and roofing materials. The local store will focus on providing the lumber and nails, at least initially.
“We’ll cater to the needs of the market,” Brown said, “basic materials. As we see what the market needs are, we’ll bring them in.”
Already, this store’s stocks aren’t small.
“I’ve got 77,000 (studs) of 2x4x10s, and I’m not full,” Brown said. “I’ve got 27,000 sheets of 7/16 roofing plywood.”
84 Lumber touts “right prices” throughout the 250-store firm.
“Because we’re such a big corporation, we’ve got a lot of buying power, so we buy cheaper, and it’s a savings for consumers,” Brown said. Served by a rail line, the Brooksville site can accommodate three train cars at lay-by, each with a capacity of four truckloads. The savings in transportation costs are passed on to customers, he said.
Now 24, Brown grew up through the company, as have 95 percent of its employees. The Jacksonville native started as a yard worker, picking up trash his first week. He moved on to loading associate, then to front desk management trainee and now operations manager.
Hiring is still under way.
“We train from within; we promote from within,” Brown said. He envisions a starting staff of seven or eight, growing as sales and demand increase.
Most recently an operations manager in Houston, Brown applied for the job here to return to his home state. Marie Whitney, a Brooksvillian for 15 years, with 20 years experience in the building trades, is acquainting him with local commerce and the government entities as she takes on duties as sales coordinator.
Brown’s immediate challenges, he said, include meeting building codes and licenses for 84 Lumber’s own building, as well as learning Florida home construction regulations, particularly as they pertain to hurricane protection.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]