Mill Valley Lumber Co. to Close, Owners Look to Sell Land for $1.4M

Real estate agent for more than half-acre property between the two sides of Miller Ave. says there has been "tremendous interest" in land so far, with most potential buyers planning to retain its historic buildings.

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.

steve bouchard July 13, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I would like to see it used as a center for a 'history of Mill Valley' museum.
Len Blumin July 13, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I'll miss you guys, and especially Francis. "Doc"
Jame Baldovinos July 13, 2012 at 05:40 PM
The asking price is TOO LOW!
Rebecca Chapman July 14, 2012 at 12:18 AM
how 'bout a bar?
John Rogers Graybill July 14, 2012 at 01:55 AM
I can't imagine the soils test under the Pressure Treated Lumber Stacks, it must be saturated with arsenic and other banned wood treatments chemicals.
Tim Ridges July 14, 2012 at 04:39 PM
City Park?
Magoo July 15, 2012 at 06:40 AM
Why don't you buy it then, flip it, and and make a hefty profit.
Simon July 16, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Dog boutique. They should build an amazing dog boutique/salon there, with an adjoining cafe (owned, obviously, by Tyler Florence), overlooking the creek, where you could sip a nice cab sauv and a gourmet snack while your dog gets pedicured. Let's face it. Central Mill Valley does NOT have enough dog boutiques. Mill Valley Lumber Co., Village Music, Sakes Alive, BOOK stores, ANY business with a soul... Who needs THAT? They should take that GORgeous property and turn it into a rustic yet elegant megaplex, co-owned by Tyler Florence and AlphaDog. *On a non-sarcastic note, I remember when I was a kid I would go into the store at Mill Valley Lumber Co. and they would give me a handful of snacks to drop into the creek there, and I would watch the little steelhead salmon eat them. It was really fun.
Frank Lurz July 16, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Sell it to Safe Routes to School. They certainly have the money; they just flung away $1.1 million on a half-mile sidewalk on Evergreen Ave. that no one will use. They could use the property to manufacture concrete, and their National Partnership Director, Deb Hubsmith, could lease part of it to run a bicycle factory.
Kathleen Duich July 17, 2012 at 12:49 AM
The sarcasm is a bummer. If you feel bad about what's going on with our town, what are you doing about it? Let's ask the Proof Lab/Alpha Dog people, who seem to be able to come up with all kinds of community building, sustainability supporting ideas without resorting to anything having to do with hair salons or women's clothing stores. Check out their native plant nursery/ceramics lab/gathering spot in Tam Valley. In fact, maybe Patch could do an article about them...
Simon July 17, 2012 at 02:44 PM
What am I doing about it? I am 25 years old and I don't live in Mill Valley because I can't afford it and wouldn't want to anyway. I was born and raised there, though. Now, I live in the East Bay with the scary things that one is safe from in Mill Valley. Like non-profits. Blue-collar people. Panhandlers. And black people. And hispanic people who AREN'T cleaning up after you and making your food. What am I doing about it? Look around. What are you talking about? What the hell does the existence of a native plant nursery/ceramics lab/gathering spot in Tam Valley have to do with the closing of Mill Valley's oldest business? When you call something "sustainability supporting" in Mill Valley, it's the equivalent of calling something "life-giving" in the middle of a combat zone. Mill Valley is an epicenter of consumptive, excessive living where any attempt at "sustainability" is just a self-affirming excuse made by people who feel inherent guilt when they look around and see nothing but prosperity and consumption. If you deny that, you're just wrong. By definition, the town Mill Valley has become is exceptionally unsustainable and is so far removed from the social reality of our times that it might as well be an amusement park.
Mari July 24, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Rock on, Simon and Frank. You have to know something is wrong - when someone as intelligent as Rebecca Chapman is homeless, the Patch does a story on her, and the article with the most comments on it is titled "Who has the Cutest Dog in Mill Valley?" Wait a minute - maybe a graphic novel - where's Lippy when you need him?
Mari July 24, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Dean-I July 24, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Ha ha. "Simon" hit it on the head. My family's been in Mill Valley since 1888 and I worked at MVL off and on for 26 years. Believe me, we've witnessed the change. It's a completely different town now!
HV Majority July 24, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Not according to Mari. Nothing has, or should, ever change in this place in her world. At least not in her back yard...
Rebecca Chapman August 06, 2012 at 01:39 AM
wow, cool. i hadn't realized my name made it all the way over to this post (besides my facetious 'bar' comment). thanks, mari. but, just so everyone's clear, i don't think i'm above homelessness. no one is, really. i just don't think any one person should have to endure the kinds of brutality that i've been exposed to during this past almost 2 years, as it's created a real hindrance to my life, that's all...


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