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ProBuild closes: Builders lament loss of Clinton lumberyard

ProBuild in Clinton closed Friday, leaving the community without its own building supply store for the first time in nearly 50 years.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
ProBuild in Clinton closed Friday, leaving the community without its own building supply store for the first time in nearly 50 years.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Clinton is without a building supply store for the first time in over 45 years today.

ProBuild surprised island contractors and the greater Clinton business community early this week when it announced it would close its doors Friday afternoon. The building and lumber supply store, located next to South Whidbey Animal Clinic on Highway 525, notified customers of the closure with a message on its roadside reader-board sign.

“It went from ‘help wanted’ to ‘we’re closing’ in one day,” said Dave Johnson, of Price Johnson Construction.

The Clinton-based builder said ProBuild was his main supplier and that he’d miss the convenience of having a lumber and materials store so close to home.

“It’s too bad. ... We’re going to miss them,” Johnson said.

ProBuild is a building supply chain with over 400 stores across the country. Jennifer Thurman, a spokeswoman for the company, said the closure was an “opportunity to consolidate,” but that it expects to continue servicing Whidbey contractors with its off-island stores.

“We anticipate we can fully service our customers in the area with our Ferndale and Arlington locations,” Thurman said.

Store employees at the Clinton location number fewer than 10 people, she said. 

“Relocation to other stores is available to all of those employees; we’re working on the logistics of who is going where,” Thurman said. “We’re feeling pretty good about it.”

Store workers declined to comment for this story, citing company policy. Thurman confirmed store employees are not permitted to speak to the media.

As of Friday it was unclear what will happen to the building and lumberyard — whether it will be sold, leased or simply sit vacant. Thurman said the company doesn’t own the building, but property tax records on the Island County Assessor’s Office website list ProBuild as the legal owner.

Whatever the case, the national chain is only the most recent of a long list of building supply stores to call the Clinton location home. The first was set up nearly 50 years ago by Julius “Bud” Groom. According to an online memoriam of Groom, who died in 2009, he opened Groom Building Supply in June 1967 after moving to Langley with his family from Myrtle Creek, Ore.

The store was sold and became Lumber Jacks, which was later purchased by Lumbermen’s. That company, which also had a Coupeville store, was acquired by ProBuild about six or seven years ago.

“It’s always been a lumberyard,” said Toby Quade, a Freeland resident and former long-time ProBuild employee.

Quade, who recently left the company for a position at Frontier Building Supply in Freeland, said he isn’t aware of the details behind ProBuild’s decision to pack up shop, but that the service gap they leave behind will be filled by Frontier and Hanson’s Building Supply in Bayview. 

“There might be some growing pains, but we should be able to take on the responsibility,” Quade said.

Dan Gregory, a store manager at Hanson’s, didn’t have any more answers than Quade about ProBuild’s closure but he did say three building supply stores in a community the size of South Whidbey was “amazing.”

Local ownership by lifelong South Whidbey resident Vic Hanson is one of the edges that’s helped them stay competitive, he added.

“We’re homegrown; Vic’s been here forever,” Gregory said. “We don’t have to call corporate to make a comment.”

Johnson said corporate ownership was at times inconvenient, but that it wasn’t enough to steer him away. He said he’d had headaches in the past trying to get the store to break from a decided inventory of building supplies that catered toward tract homes — affordable cookie cutter houses common in off-island developments —and instead carry the more expensive, high-end materials often needed in Whidbey construction.

“We’re a different animal here,” he said. “This was like a square peg in a round hole.”

While the corporate model didn’t seem like a good fit on the South End, Johnson said the convenience of a Clinton supplier was worth the occasional difficulty. Having three stores was also nice because the competition seemed to drive down prices.

But with ProBuild now out of the picture, Johnson said he will likely be splitting his business between Hanson’s and Frontier, at least for the time being.

“Whoever has the best price gets it,” Johnson said.

“We’ll see who takes care of me the best,” he added.

 

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