NORTH RIDGEVILLE — As he sat in an upstairs office of the business begun by his father in 1950, Ridge Lumber owner Craig Praszek talked about how things had come full circle.
“When I started out, we did all the manual labor, loading lumber onto trucks and making deliveries,” the lifelong North Ridgeville man resident. “My dad (Albert Praszek) started me out unloading boxcars at the (railroad) tracks across the road when I was 13.”
As the business expanded over the years, more employees were added and duties were delegated — only to see those workers let go in recent years as sales dwindled, especially during the past decade.
“I’d say we’ve lost 40 to 50 percent of our business in the past 10 years,” Praszek said. “We’re back to hustling (delivering) boards again, along with handling sales and all the paperwork.”
All of which has led to the decision to call it quits at the end of September. Praszek, 55, just couldn’t compete with the big home improvement store chains, “the ones with the multi-million dollar advertising budgets. The small guys tend to get forgotten.”
Praszek kept busy in recent years, keeping the small Avon-Belden Road lumber yard going with his wife, Vicki, and two other employees.
“I never minded being a jack-of-all-trades,’’ he said. “I like being with people and talking to them.”
Carrying a range of cherry, oak, maple, walnut and other lumber products, as well as windows and doors, composite and vinyl decking, roofing materials and treated lumber, the firm catered to both commercial and residential customers. Ridge Lumber was born when Albert Praszek stepped out on his own with a World War II flatbed truck and an order pad after gaining experience working for the area’s old Barnes Brothers Coal and Supply Co.
“He’d drive around to work sites and get orders and then pick up lumber from all the lumber yards that used to be under the bridges in the Flats,” Praszek said.
Regular customers included small homebuilders.
“We’d do business with outfits that typically built 12 to 20 homes a year,” Praszek said. “We were busy all the time. But those guys are pretty much gone. They got squeezed out by the big builders that buy up huge tracts of land and put up hundreds of homes at a time.”
The two delivery trucks the company kept busy for years were reduced to one. And the lingering recession didn’t help a shrinking residential customer base.
“With gas prices going up, people just weren’t buying,” Praszek said. “You don’t spend it if you don’t have it.”
And when they did, they tended to go the home improvement box-store route.
“Everything just slowly ground to a halt and we said that’s enough … it’s time,” Praszek said.
Asked what he’ll do without the family business to occupy his time, Praszek ticked off a list of goals, some of which he’s had to put off for years.
“We’ll try and take a vacation and actually go some place. We haven’t taken one in 25 years,’’ he said. “I’ll grow some produce and generally take some time off.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org