84 Lumber builds on recovery in housing market, opens store

| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Building materials supplier 84 Lumber Co. opened its first new store in about six years on Friday and said it will turn a profit this year for the first time since the housing downturn.

“We definitely hit rock bottom,” said Maggie Hardy Magerko, the company's president and owner, referring to the homebuilding slump.

“Now it slowly has started to accelerate, and we're really excited for the bright future,” she said at an event to open the company's new Bridgeville area store.

The new location off Presto Sygan Road in South Fayette replaces a smaller location on nearby Route 50. The Washington County-based company wanted to expand there and arranged a land swap with the developer of the nearby Newbury community.

Now, 84 Lumber's seven-acre campus includes the two-story store and kitchen and bath design gallery, plus a lumber warehouse, railroad spur and high-tech saw that can turn out custom-engineered wood components for 10 houses in a day.

Sales at the new location are projected to reach $25 million next year, up from $10 million at the old store, Magerko said.

The company started in 1956 by her father, Joe Hardy, peaked at 500 stores about five years ago but shed half its locations and refinanced debt when the homebuilding industry collapsed. The last new store in the Pittsburgh area opened eight years ago — but that location in Bethel Park later was shuttered.

“I love the store count we have right now,” at 251 locations, Magerko said. “Before, it was all about being the biggest, and how quick can we open stores. Now it's very manageable.”

New home construction “will start coming back in another year or so. The inventory is disappearing,” Joe Hardy said, adding housing starts could return to the 1.5 million-a-year level nationwide in a couple years.

The National Association of Home Builders said a 15 percent increase in production and permitting in September brought the pace of new housing construction to a rate of 872,000, seasonally adjusted.

In the six-county Pittsburgh area, new residential construction activity grew 11 percent in the first nine months of 2012, from a year earlier, research firm Tall Timber Group of Ross said.

“We are seeing an uptick in activity, people coming back into the market and people renovating their homes,” said Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

Hardy, who accepted a plaque from the association for his role in local homebuilding, said more new 84 Lumber stores are planned.

The company, based in the town of Eighty Four in North Strabane, projects $1.6 billion in sales for 2012, up from $1.4 billion last year.

Generally, 84 Lumbers stores that closed were in older, mature markets — and the company wants to locate in areas where 2,000 to 3,000 new homes are built each year in a 30-mile radius, said spokesman Jeff Nobers. The company considers 1.1 million housing starts a year a “normal” level, and the market is returning to that, he said.

Magerko said homeowners in Newbury's residential area, on a hill overlooking the new store, and other neighborhoods will be able to pick out kitchen cabinets and other fixtures from the new store's second-floor showroom.

Kitchen, bath and outdoor living products have grown to $250 million annually in installed sales, she said. The old Bridgeville store, which closed Monday, had a smaller display area.

“We're really ready now to install the high-end kitchens and high-end baths” considering 84's experience in that field in the past four years, she said.

Donna Noel of Cecil liked looking at the granite countertops and other fixtures displayed at the old store, and was eager to view the new gallery. “You always want to update something,” said Noel, who stopped by the opening with her husband, Rich.

About 40 percent of Newbury's 200 home sites have been sold, said developer Brett Malky, president of EQA Landmark Communities, and construction is to start next spring on the 250-unit Newbury Village garden apartment complex, along with a clubhouse and swimming pool.

Newbury's 88-acre retail area, not including 84 Lumber, is expected to include a Giant Eagle supermarket in addition to an office building and a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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