Contractors brace for lumberyard’s closure; management says nothing is decided

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Local contractors say they've been told Malibu Lumber is scheduled to close soon, even as a sign outside the yard celebrates its 55th year. However, management has said it's all rumors. Laura Tate / TMT

The management of Malibu’s half-century old lumberyard dismisses talk of closure as rumors, but local contractors are weighing their options for business if Malibu Lumber closes.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Local contractors are readying themselves for daily supply runs to neighboring cities in anticipation of the shuttering of Malibu Lumber, while the store’s management says no decisions have been made.

Several Malibu contractors say the lumberyard’s management has told them the business will be closing, possibly this winter. They cited various reasons, from the difficulties of operating on expensive Malibu land to the store’s parent company deciding to shut down the site.

Other sources close to the business, however, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the possible problem of the parent company shutting down the site could be averted because other lumber companies have expressed interest in coming in to operate it. Malibu Lumber is currently under the operation of the Weyerhaeuser Company; it rents its property from the Malibu Bay Company.

Nevertheless, contractors are bracing themselves for the worst-case scenario of their local supply-vein closing.

“The bummer is, the people at Malibu Lumber are great people,” said Kevin Peterson, president of the Malibu Association of Contractors. Peterson said the management and people he deals with daily at Malibu Lumber had told him the closure became official two weeks ago.

“That business closing is not only going to affect everybody’s job price,” Peterson said, “but on a worse note, in the event of the disasters that we always seem to have in Malibu, where are people going to go if the canyons are closed or if the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] is closed? Malibu Lumber has always been there for us.”

Peterson said contractors would have to travel to Agoura Hills for supplies, given that Weyerhaeuser is closing its other local site, Fisher Lumber in Santa Monica.

Marty King, who worked at Malibu Lumber when he was 17 and now runs King Construction here, estimated that Malibu Lumber’s closure would force him to inflate his prices about five percent, possibly up to 10 percent for small jobs.

“I have usually three to four construction projects going on at a time, and we use Malibu Lumber at least once a day for one project or another,” King said. “It’s going to increase travel time for buying materials, and it’s going to take more time to do everything.”

King said he had not heard specific information from Malibu Lumber’s management, but had been hearing about impending closure for years.

Greg Harris of Harris Construction said tantamount to extra travel time would be the loss of his relationship with the local business.

“The relationship that I have with the lumber yard is priceless,” said Harris, who said the management had told him the store was closing. “I can get materials at other places, but because of my long-standing relationship with Malibu Lumber, I have very good terms with them.”

Despite most all contractors interviewed for this story saying they have been told of the definite closure, Manager Erik Jorgensborg said the talk was “all incorrect rumors.”

“It’s just a rumor,” he said. “I’m the only one who knows anything about that-me and the owner up in Seattle.”

Jorgensborg declined to comment on the status of the business.

While sources close to Malibu Lumber said outside companies had expressed interest in buying and preserving the store, another variable could play a role in the lumberyard’s fate-the possibility that the City of Malibu could buy the property where Malibu Lumber sits from the Malibu Bay Company.

Malibu Bay recently became a willing seller of its Chili Cook-Off property, where Malibu Lumber is located, and the passage of Measure S this month made it possible for the city to partner with Santa Monica College to buy the land.

City Attorney Christi Hogin said nothing had been decided, but the purchase remained a possibility.

Dick Volpert, attorney for Malibu Bay, said he had no information about the negotiations.

Hogin said it could be possible, if the city were to buy the property and become Malibu Lumber’s landlord, for the city to somehow help the lumberyard by negotiating a reduced rent, for example, on the grounds that the store provides a public benefit.

“There’s a whole area of redevelopment law where cities use various powers to help increase business in the city,” Hogin said, “and there’s certainly value and benefit to the city on the whole when there’s a certain mix of businesses in the city.”

Some residents and city officials have said Malibu Lumber’s difficulties could evidence a larger trend in the city, although a pattern that could not be changed by the simple renegotiation of one lease.

“I think it is a problem that the city does not have an area that is zoned for these types of businesses,” Councilmember Jeff Jennings said. “We don’t have places where businesses like that can easily be established. So the lack of available space drives up the rent that can be charged for the space that is here.”