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Mill Valley Lumber Co. Property Owners Divert from Original Plans

Unable to lure a lumber yard or hardware tenant and facing the cost of upgrading historic buildings, owners shift gears; rent hike sends Mill Valley Cabinet Shop across town.

While it might forever be known as the Mill Valley Lumber Co. property, the nearly one-acre piece of land in the middle of Miller Ave. at the entrance to downtown won’t be home to a lumber yard, for the first time in the property’s 121-year history.

And the building at the southeastern edge of it, which literally straddles the creek and has been home to a woodworking operation for 67 years, is no longer home to the Mill Valley Cabinet Shop.

Despite their intentions when they bought the land in August 2012, Almonte residents Matt and Jan Mathews have had to divert from their hopes to keep a lumber yard and hardware operation on the site, they said. They also raised the rent for the Cabinet Shop space to a degree that its longtime owner said he couldn’t handle, sending him across town.

A new tenant for that space has moved in and will use it as a workshop and office space but declined to provide any details for its use.

Matt and Jan Mathews said they still hope to bring in a general mercantile store, a specialty hardware operation and/or other commercial uses to the larger buildings on the property, but the economics of fixing up the historic buildings and the lack of demand from potential lumber yard/hardware store tenants have forced them to make difficult decisions.

Lee Goldstein, who for the past 25 years has operated the Mill Valley Cabinet Shop at 153 Miller Ave., literally spanning the creek, moved his business last week to the DePietro Todd Building at 250 Camino Alto behind the Cantina restaurant.

Goldstein said his new landlords sought to increase his rent to levels his business couldn’t afford.

“It’s a shame,” Goldstein said. “We really loved that location. We just weren’t comfortable with those rents – they seemed exorbitant.”

Matt and Jan Mathews don’t dispute that they had to seek higher rent for that space, though the Mathews said they simply offered him the market rate rent for the space. As they see it, they need sufficient revenue coming in to pay for the significant structural upgrades required to make the buildings on the property seismically safe, as well having stable income from which to seek financing for those and future improvements.

“These buildings have been work horses for over 100 years, but right now they need some TLC,” Jan Mathews said. 

“We are community members, not some big corporation, so we need to make this a success in order to preserve the buildings for future generations” Matt Mathews added.  

The couple said they sought potential lumber yard operators all over Northern California, drawing on Eureka native Matt Mathews’ ties up north and his longtime professional ties in the construction industry.

Jan Mathews said each conversation ended with a no, with many saying they needed more space to make a lumber yard work at the site. Outreach to potential hardware store brands like True Value proved equally unsuccessful, they said.

Despite the shift, the couple insists that the fears of some when the Cerri family first put the property up for sale in June 2012 – that condos or other permitted residential development could go up on the prominent and historic property – remain out of the question.

“Our goal remains to preserve the buildings and keep it something that the community can interact with and enjoy,” Jan Mathews said.

Matt Mathews said he’s already found a source for redwood siding that is an exact match for the recognizable existing siding. Their vision, once repairs are complete, is to make the site much more accessible to Mill Valley residents and visitors, “so everyone can enjoy this wonderful location,” Mathews said. 

The 411: The Mill Valley Cabinet Shop has relocated its showroom to 250 Camino Alto, Suite 100B. 415.388.5309; sales@millvalleycabinetshop.com. It also has a workshop in the East Bay at 925.597.0072.

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Rebecca Chapman February 06, 2013 at 06:09 PM
maybe the debartolos could weigh in...
Tom Quigley February 06, 2013 at 10:42 PM
A little sad that a lumber company didn't want to come in but at least the new owners have decided to stay with the original buildings and retain our neighborhood character and not go with condos. I'm exc,ited to watch new ideas and concepts come to fruition. - Tom Quigley
Penni Gladstone February 07, 2013 at 02:10 AM
Crossing my fingers for the Matthews family. Their intentions were good. I hope they can stay afloat.
Jim Welte February 07, 2013 at 07:05 PM
In response to questions and concerns about their decision to seek a higher rent from the Mill Valley Cabinet Shop, Matt and Jan Mathews added, "We offered the cabinet shop a per square foot rate that is about a third less than the going rate per square foot at 250 Camino Alto Ave., the cabinet shop's new location. We were sorry to have the cabinet shop move out, but we were not asking an exorbitant rate. It was more than the Cabinet Shop wanted to pay, and that was a business decision on their part."
Rebecca Chapman February 07, 2013 at 08:45 PM
the cabinet shop needed to go. for anybody who can remember that far back, and knew all the key players involved, the mill valley lumber yard, hardware store & cabinet shop have been embroiled in previous controversies that could barely be resolved. sorry about my snide comment earlier; it was really more directed at some of the planning commissioners. i too wish the matthews family all the luck in the world; it sounds like they have their hearts in the right place, so let's just hope this property turns into something really great for our whole community...
Lesa Carmean February 08, 2013 at 01:53 AM
I'm curious as to how this location will be affected by the Miller Avenue project. It seemed according to the plans that this location falls within the "narrows" wherein it will be improved down to one lane going in and going out of town in order to provide for the newly approved 8 foot wide bikepaths with 2 foot wide textured and painted buffers that will be replacing the current second lanes. It may prove difficult to traverse there if the site were under construction or became a high traffic area.

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