Schaeffer Lumber Co. closes doors Unable to collect debts, building-supply business goes under; 'We ran out of money'; 52-year-old firm fails as renewal starts at Liberty and Green


The owners of Westminster's Schaeffer Lumber Co. locked the doors yesterday morning and flipped over the "Closed" sign -- spelling the end of the 52-year-old business.

The building-supply company at Liberty and Green streets fell victim to unpaid bills by about half a dozen contractors, said Ken Furman, Schaeffer's vice president. As a result, the company was unable to buy materials despite continued demand.

"We've closed our doors. It's official," he said.

Furman spoke as he fielded telephone calls -- confirming the business had closed and making arrangements with customers to pick up materials. His father, Bill, the company's president, looked stricken and said he had nothing to say about the closing.

The Furmans bought the lumberyard in 1994 from the Schaeffer family, which founded it in 1946 and still owns the land.

"It's just a sad day -- a company that's been there for 52 years," said Michael Bennett, an employee and a member of the Schaeffer family. "It was started by my father-in-law, David Schaeffer, and his brother Edgar and their father Noah."

Bennett found it ironic that the land probably will increase in value with the planned $6.6 million development of the old Farmers Supply Co. site, catty-corner from the lumberyard. That property is to be developed into retail and office space for the Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. and its parent Mason-Dixon Bancshares, which hold the Schaeffer business loans.

On Monday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening visited Westminster and ceremonially knocked down the first of the decrepit buildings at the Farmers Supply site.

The lumberyard opened for a couple of hours yesterday for an employee meeting to relay the bad news, Ken Furman said. Almost all of the 21 employees had been paid through last week.

"We plumb ran out of money, so we closed our doors," Furman BTC said. "It's permanent. I wish it was temporary."

The business primarily supplied builders rather than retail customers. The closing had nothing to do with competition from Lowe's or 84 Lumber Co. or Home Depot, he said, adding that it was "about money: getting beat out by a few bad apples."

"We had plenty of business on the books -- just no money to replace and purchase inventory," he said. "It was your basic cash-flow situation: People didn't pay. We tried, but it's very difficult to get money out of people who won't pay you."

He declined to name the contractors or the amount of the debts, but several Schaeffer employees confirmed the problem of unpaid bills.

One employee, who asked not to be identified because he is looking for a job, said employees had suspected the business might close for "just the last week or so."

"The inventory wasn't being replaced," he said. "If you don't have the basic items and they aren't coming in, you can kind of see the handwriting on the wall.

"It's kind of a traumatic experience for everybody," he added. "They were fine people to work for."

The inventory could not be replaced because of the amounts Schaeffer owed to vendors and the unpaid debts owed to Schaeffer by contractors.

In the past 10 years, Bennett said more than 80 small lumberyards have gone out of business in Maryland, southern Pennsylvania and northern Virginia, "and it's not over yet." "We were a contractors' yard, not a retail yard," he said, and the business was affected by a shift by the 84 Lumber Co. from retail sales into the contractors market.

"It's not unusual in this day and age. A lot of small independent lumberyards have been forced out of business by the competition," said Bennett, who spent 26 years "doing all the buying for the entire place."

The bank is in the process of foreclosing on the business and the line of credit "basically ran down," Bennett said.

"The bank will probably take over in a couple of days," agreed Furman, who will also be looking for work. "We struggled for a long time with the cash flow, about a year.

"We were doing OK in terms of business. We just ran out of money."

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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