Fisher lumber store 'will be missed'
FISHER — The village of Fisher had a lumber company for more than a century. But no more.
Fisher Lumber & Building Supply's last day of business was July 30. Later this month, the buildings at 102 E. Front St. — and the inventory of lumber, hardware, tools and trucks — will be sold during a two-day liquidation.
"The business can't compete any more against the big stores," said Stan Zehr, a Fisher native who co-owned the lumber company the last 15 years.
"Business has really been down. I felt like we had to sell out," he said.
The closing means residents of the northwestern Champaign County community (population 1,881) will have to turn to hardware stores in Mahomet, Gibson City and beyond for nails, hinges and other needs.
"It'll be a real inconvenience for Fisher residents," said Mike Kelly, who operates Fisher Produce, which processes feed for livestock producers.
"They had not only lumber supplies, but also electrical and plumbing equipment. It was next door, and I had a habit up picking up items I needed suddenly and unexpectedly," Kelly said. "It'll be missed."
According to a centennial history of the village published in 1976, there has been a lumber company in town since at least 1892, when F.E. Putnam opened a lumber, lime and cement business after buying out J.A. Axtell's business the year before.
Later, Will Swayze bought the lumberyard, and in 1908, sold it to his brother-in-law, J.E. McJilton.
Forty-three years later, the McJilton family sold the operation to Harlan E. Moore of Champaign.
Lyle "Perk" Cagle managed Fisher Lumber from 1951 to 1996, when a trust formed by Moore sold the business to two Fisher couples — Stan and Tammy Zehr and Mike and Debbie Estes.
"They wanted someone in town to have it," Zehr said. "Our goal in buying the company was to keep it going for the people of Fisher."
Zehr said his first few years in business were pretty good. But after five years, business slowed. Development in Fisher's Heritage Estates subdivision gave the lumber company a boost.
But when home building dried up, so did the lumber business.
"The economy caught up with everything," Zehr said. "Last year was really, really slow."
A few other factors figured into the decline, he said.
One of the town's biggest employers, Vesuvius, did a lot of business with Fisher Lumber because Vesuvius used wooden crates for shipping. But Vesuvius announced two years ago that it was closing its Fisher facility.
Another problem: Some suppliers didn't want to bother with the small amounts ordered by Fisher Lumber.
The lumber company was among the first businesses in the area to carry Benjamin Moore paints, Zehr said. But Benjamin Moore required it to buy a certain amount of paint.
"They shut us out for not buying enough," Zehr said.
The same thing happened with Andersen Windows, he added.
Fisher Lumber's liquidation sale is scheduled Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21, with Gibson City auctioneer Bill Kruse in charge.
Among the items up for grabs: oak flooring, cypress fence boards, paint brushes, stove pipe fittings, barn windows and dry wall, as well as nails, bolts and hinges.
For 13 years, the lumber company has rented part of its building to Country Carpets, operated by Larry and Sylvia Winters. Larry Winters said the flooring business plans to continue operating there.
Zehr, whose family has lived in the Fisher area for 123 years, said he remembers, as a kid, unloading wood from railroad cars and transporting it to the lumber yard.
Both he and Kelly have fond memories of former manager "Perk" Cagle.
"The man trusted people with a handshake and a look in the eye," Kelly said. "If you had a need or shortage, Perk would work something out."
Zehr said some customers building homes didn't pay Cagle for their supplies until they moved in.
"We tried to hang our hat on good customer service, the way Perk always did it in town," said Debbie Estes, Fisher Lumber's secretary and a member of the village board.
"We used to sell a lot of service," Zehr said, "and you can't sell that any more."