Bernzen Lumber closing after 127 years, making way for new owner

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 18, 2016 7:45 pm

QUINCY -- Bernzen Lumber Co. at 439 N. 17th -- one of Quincy's oldest family-owned businesses -- is shutting down March 4 after 127 years.

The business is being sold to a new owner who plans to open another lumberyard at the same location by late March or early April.

Greg Bernzen, the fifth generation of his family to operate the company, said he wasn't at liberty to identify the buyer.

"They'd like to keep that silent until they actually purchase the property," he said.

Bernzen said that although a sales agreement has been signed, it won't be finalized until the current owners liquidate assets by selling the contents of the lumberyard and business office at an auction slated for 9 a.m. March 16.

"The new owners want to have everything cleaned out so they can give it a face-lift and start out with a clean slate," Bernzen said.

The Bernzen family owns all the property along the west side of 17th Street between Broadway and Spring. Bernzen said the new owners are buying only the northern portion, between the alley and Spring Street, where the lumberyard is situated. The southern portion, from the alley to Broadway, remains for sale and includes a former Quincy fire station that was sold to the company in 1962 and later became its office and showroom.

Bernzen said his parents, Bill and Nancy Bernzen, decided the time was right to exit the lumber business.

"My dad is in bad health now, and my mom needs to take care of him," Bernzen said. "It was becoming too much for my mom to handle between keeping tabs on the business and keeping everything going with my dad. So she decided it was best to focus more on him and his health."

Bernzen said increased competition from several big-box home improvement centers "did not at all" enter into the decision to sell the business.

"Our main focus here has been contractor-based," he said. "I mean, we did deal with the general public, but most of our business came from contractors. It's a lot easier for them to come to us versus having to go out to the box stores. If they order something, we usually get it out the same day. Usually (with) the box stores, (they) have to wait a few days."

Bernzen said he has accepted an offer to work for the new owners in his current role as "pretty much a general manager."

Bernzen Lumber Co. was founded in 1889 as Middendorf Brothers Lumber Co. It initially operated at 10th and Broadway before moving to 17th and Spring in 1910.

According to Herald-Whig archives, the company was started by two brothers -- Theodore A. Middendorf and William H. Middendorf -- who were later joined by a third brother, Henry B. Middendorf. One of Henry's daughters, Edith, married Walter J. Bernzen, who eventually took on a leadership role with the company.

Walter Bernzen was Bill Bernzen's grandfather and Greg Bernzen's great-grandfather. The company's name was changed to Bernzen Lumber Co. in 1988.

"Our family enjoyed serving all the people of Quincy and interacting with everybody," Bernzen said. "This is a great place to have a business."

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