Economy blamed for closure of Woodbury Lumber

'I'm just tired of it'
Jul. 28, 2013 @ 08:08 AM

For years, Dale Hodges would head with his friend Perry Drum down to Woodbury Lumber on Valway Road, where they would settle into their favorite leather chairs, turn on the TV and talk about the world's troubles. Occasionaly Luke Woodbury III, between customers, would sit in.

"We're going to have to find something else to do now," Hodges, 83, said.

On Wednesday, after 67 years of selling homebuilding supplies to folks in Caldwell and Watauga counties, the company will close its doors for good. The company fell victim to an ailing economy and the collapse of the housing market. Woodbury, 71, who inherited the business from his dad, Luke Woodbury Jr., says he still could have made a go of it but decided enough was enough.

"I'm just tired of it," he said. "Business is down 60 percent from where it was. We still have good sales, but I don't have the energy to keep up with it. I'm tired of messing with it and the sagging economy. It's just not coming back in this part of North Carolina."

The company has dwindled from 10 employees to four. Woodbury has been shedding inventory at discounted prices in preparation for the company's liquidation. Workers have been boxing up merchandise and dismantling shelves.

Luke Woodbury Jr., a timber cutter, and his wife, Frances, founded the company in 1946 on some land they bought on N.C. 90. Luke Woodbury III and his sister, Frances, helped out in the store, sweeping and doing odd jobs.

In 1963, Luke Woodbury Jr. died, and his son dropped out of Wake Forest University to take over the company. In 1971, he moved the store to Valway Road, expanding to 20,000 square feet.

Customers got used to seeing rescued animals running through the store, including Molly, designated the chief greeter, a blind chocolate lab with glass eyes and a sweet disposition. Contractors became friends, and often bills were forgiven until payment could be made, said Tommy Austin, who has been doing business there for 43 years.

"If you got behind on the money, he'd carry it over until I could pay," Austin said. "He's just an A-1 guy."

Paul Embler, 87, said he moved to Lenoir from Jackson, Miss., in 1960 after his business had failed. He arrived flat broke but found a sympathetic ear in Luke Woodbury Jr.

"I had nothing," Embler said. "I talked to Luke Jr. and told him I needed credit without a credit rating. He said, 'When you get a job, you come see me.'

"They are generous beyond belief. It breaks my heart to see them go out of business. They are the finest people I've known since I've been here."

Luke Woodbury III's biggest regret is that he won't keep seeing the regular customers who became friends.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," he said.