The Cerri family, which has owned the 120-year-old for the past 14 years and has over the past few months, is moving on to Plan B.
That means selling the more than half-acre, 28,230-square-foot property on which the business has sat since around the time of the dawn of Mill Valley itself. They’re asking $1.4 million for the land.
The move has many in town shuddering at the possibility that the historic property in between the two sides of Miller Ave. will be sold and turned into condos. But Dianne Andrews of McGuire Real Estate, which is handling the sale of the property, says those fears are presumptuous.
”A lot of people assume that if the land is sold, those historic buildings will all get torn down and the land will turn into something they wouldn’t want to see there - that is not a wise assumption,” she says. “I’ve had tremendous interest in the property so far and more than half of those interested want to maintain the current look of the buildings because they know how important they are to Mill Valley.”
Prospective buyers, most of whom are from Mill Valley and Marin but also from all over the Bay Area, have ranged from those planning to maintain it as a lumber yard to those who simply want to buy it to preserve it and will figure out a plan later, Andrews says.
While that is likely great news to local historical preservationists and the lumber company’s neighbors, it’s also a relief to its current owners, according to Dan Cerri, the company’s general manager.
“We’ve put our hearts into this place for a long time and we knew it was our turn to carry the torch, so we’d hate to see it turn into something the community doesn’t want,” Cerri says.
But prospects are just that, and the zoning regulations for the property are complicated.
The property is zoned RM-3.5, which means residential multi-family with a minimum lot size of 3,500 square feet. Because of its residential use, a lumber yard could only open there if the current one has been out of business for less than six month, according to the city’s zoning code.
There are also a number of possible commercial or non-residential uses for the property that would be subject to a conditional use permit. They include: office, hospital, funeral parlor, community center, social hall, lodge, nursery, rest home, day care center, parking lot and mixed use.
While the future of the property is cloudy, the Cerri family’s future is clear in at least one aspect given their recent struggles. “I know one thing – we’re not going back into the lumber business after this,” Cerri says.
The company’s sales have plummeted each year since the economic downturn of 2008, when the bottom fell out of the residential remodel business on which Mill Valley Lumber is so dependent, Cerri says.
Cerri says his family was very disappointed to have to lay off their five employees, particularly Francis Azevedo, who was let go on the 38th anniversary of his start with the company.
“That was pretty sad and a bad way of honoring his career – but it’s a sign of the times,” he says.
The Cerris closed the store this week in an effort to begin returning inventory to their suppliers. They flirted with bankruptcy but ultimately decided “to make things right,” Cerri says.
“We’re not abandoning our obligations – we’ll be paying all of our debts,” Cerri adds.
Mill Valley Lumber Co. reopens Monday with 20 percent discounts on all hardware and some lumber for sale as well. They’ll remain open through the end of July in the hopes of liquidating all of its remaining inventory.