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Mill Valley Lumber Co. Owners Look to Sell Business, Land

Cerri family says they’re burnt out from weathering the economic downturn and want to find a buyer who will retain it as a lumber yard, which it’s been since 1892.

For all of the 120 years it’s been in business, the has had six owners.

Dan Cerri hopes there’s a seventh one out there somewhere – someone ready and willing to revive the business and maintain a vital connection to Mill Valley’s history. The Cerri family, which has owned the Mill Valley institution for 14 years, has put the business, the adjacent cabinet shop and the nearly one-acre piece of land where it’s located in the middle of Miller Ave. on the market. They’re asking $1.8 million and expect to bring in a business and real estate broker in a few weeks.

“It’s been a very hard four years,” said Cerri, who lives in Albany and is the company’s general manager along with his father Tom of Pacifica and brother Tony of Kensington.

Cerri noted that sales have dropped 20 percent each year since the 2008 downtown, dropping the company's revenue as much as 60 percent below where it was four years ago.

“We want to end our involvement with this business on a high note – it needs fresh blood,” he said. “Our family is proud that we kept it as a lumber yard for 14 years through some tough times, and we want to sell it as a lumber yard.”

If the Cerri family can’t find a buyer for the land and the business by the end of the year, they’ll be forced to close the business and look to just sell the land, Cerri said. Though the property is zoned residential, the creek that runs right through the land would require setbacks and limit the potential size of any new development.

“But I’m optimistic we’ll find a buyer for the business and the land,” Cerri added. “Anybody who knows this business understands that we’re at a turning point for the construction industry in this area and you can’t beat downtown Mill Valley for location. We just need to find someone who knows this business and who loves Mill Valley and the importance of keeping this place here.”

Although there was never a direct connection between the Old Mill for which Mill Valley got its name and the Mill Valley Lumber Co., it is one of the oldest and most obvious of all of Mill Valley's historical landmarks. It was built by lumber magnate Robert Dollar in 1892 as Dollar Lumber Company. By 1895, he sold his interest in the company and the new owners gave it the name The Doherty Company, which also had yards on Evergreen Ave. in Homestead Valley and in Larkspur.

In 1910, Nicholas Yost and Carl Christley took over and renamed it the Mill Valley Lumber Company. Longtime employee Jim Merchant owned the business for eight years prior to the Cerri family buying it 1998.

While the arrival of lumber and hardware giants like Home Depot and in San Rafael have hurt the Mill Valley Lumber somewhat, the biggest blow for the business in recent years has been generating enough revenue to keep its inventory at base levels, Cerri said. That’s largely because so much of its business has depended on remodels in Mill Valley and southern Marin, and the number of remodels plummeted from 2008-2010, he said.

Francis Azevedo, who has worked at Mill Valley Lumber for nearly 38 years and is one of the company’s five employees, said he’d definitely look to stay on if the Cerri family can sell the business.

“I’d hate to see it end,” he said. “I’ve got a few more good years to work ahead of me.”

“You can’t beat the history of this place – but it’s not a museum piece – it’s a business,” Cerri added.

Rico June 15, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Lookout, Home Depot might snap it up just to make sure nobody else buys it, and then shut it down a year later like they did with Yardbird's.
Betsy Bikle June 15, 2012 at 07:12 PM
If it's to stay as a lumber yard and not turned into riparian habitat, then I wish it could be used to recycle wood and perhaps other materials from the remodels. We have a large deck's worth of 1x6 redwood in good condition. We've only found one place which might buy it from us, and it is based in Petaluma.
David Robb June 17, 2012 at 06:35 PM
If a traditional lumber yard business model is no longer viable, then there are other "wood-related" businesses that could succeed at this location possibly in the existing buildings: keep the cabinet shop; sell wood products such as outdoor furniture, gazebos, trellises, etc.; design and procure custom structural beams and trusses; provide woodworking classes in hand tools, turning, carving, joinery, fine furniture making, canoe making; making art and functional things from recycled wood; start a wood technology center.
Rico June 18, 2012 at 02:23 AM
David, that is a great idea. But given the size of the property, it would be tough to make it work. And Betsy, I know a few people that are into recycling wood. They tell me that they are not getting rich at it, but enjoy it. Most of their time is spent out of state tearing down old barns that are loaded with nice wood. They have to put the wood on trucks and haul it out to California. They tell me that now, it is mainly restaurants and bars that are buying the old wood, because the economy has tanked, not much residential sales are happening now, but they are hoping things will rebound in a few years. And a riparian habitat ?, bueno suarte on that. It most likely will be bought by new age urbanist developers and turned into expensive affordable apartments. It does have public transportation nearby, and four lanes of vehicle traffic, two on each side within spitting distance, lovely, noisy, and expensive. A box boxed in by vehicle traffic, SOLD, it's prestigious "Meel Vallay", that 94941 zip code is worth a million dollars.
Suzanne July 10, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Here's a dream. If the Lumber Co. can't stay a lumber company, then maybe the City of Mill Valley should purchase it, make it into a historic site, and relocate the Farmer's Market to the buildings there. I'd be interested in hearing from members of the Historical Society about its cultural and historical value.
Ray Matthews November 21, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I Worked at Mill Valley Lumber from 1965 to 1974. John Caselman was the owner & Jim Merchant was the book keeper. I hate to see the place go. If anyone has any info on the current status I'd love to hear about it. raymathews@yahoo.com. I have lived in the Seattle area since 1974

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