After 162 years, Portland lumber yard done in by development pressure

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PORTLAND — It was time for Anthony Vo to walk down Memory Lane.

“It was so dusty. I stayed in here for months, just loading and unloading,” he said Nov. 30 as he walked into a storage shed at Rufus Deering Lumber Co. on Commercial Street, where he has worked since 2010.

It was the same day the sale of Rufus Deering’s business to York-based Eldredge Lumber was completed.

Rufus Deering had been in business near the waterfront at 383 Commercial St. since 1854; its land, 2.5 acres, was sold to Reger Dasco, a development group that is already reshaping the peninsula’s housing market.

“The land became more valuable than the business,” Deering Senior Vice President Dan LaBrie said Dec. 2 of the decision by the Moody family to sell.

LaBrie joined the company after working as a private contractor. By early spring, he expects to be a full-time contractor again.

“I have been walking up those stairs for 34 years,” he said in his second-floor office. “It is sad for me.”

But there’s also a sense of relief. Of the approximately two dozen Rufus Deering employees, 20 have been offered jobs at Eldredge lumber, which will shift inventory, sales and operations to the company’s lumber yard at 165 Presumpscot St.

Joe Lowrey spent the morning of Nov. 30 ringing up purchases, even calling upstairs to see if the company might sell the key-cutting machine to a customer. He expected to remain at the store through the end of the month to help liquidate inventory.

“This is devastating in some ways, people have come here, their fathers came here,” he said.

Steve Lawson and Joe Kievitt were among contractors stocking up, and none too surprised the yard was closing.

“It is sad to seem them leave,” Kievitt said. “To see another development is going to be a shame.”

Lawson has been a customer for 35 years.

“Change is change,” he said. “It was inevitable because of where it sits.”

Once the inventory is sold at Rufus Deering, Eldredge Lumber will shift operations to Presumpscot Street.

“Rufus Deering is a great company, a great family-run operation for years. When we were approached, it made perfect sense,” Eldredge Lumber General Manager Dan Remick said Nov. 28.

Eldredge Lumber will keep the Rufus Deering Kitchen Showroom open at 75 Commercial St., although the name will change.

“It gave us a kitchen presence we did not have in Portland,” Remick said.

Joe Dasco said Monday that redevelopment plans have not been finalized, and nothing has been filed with the city Planning Department. The preliminary plans call for mixed-use development with 30,000 square feet of commercial space on Commercial Street, underground parking and buildings as tall as 65 feet.

“Obviously we have a strong interest in Portland,” Dasco said. “We think it is a great site, an obvious area to expand to.”

Reger Holdings LLC, based in West Seneca, New York, developed the condominiums at 113 Newbury St., and the Bay House condominiums at 15 Middle St. The developers are now at work on 29 condominiums with 6,000 square feet of commercial space at 62 India St.

The newest development is subject to revised zoning in the India Street neighborhood and inclusionary zoning requiring at least two affordable housing units or a payment in lieu of the two units to the city Housing Trust fund.

“We will conform with whatever the code tells us,” Dasco said about the development projects, adding he and the developers will work with local architects and contractors on the projects.

After seven years at Rufus Deering, Vo found himself with a few job options to mull, while his roots remained firmly in mind.

Over those seven years, Vo had worked his way from the yard to inside sales in the upstairs office. Back in the shed, he pointed to a shelf he tagged with his name in ink in 2010, and recalled how he would climb to the top to eat lunch.

“I grew up in this place,” he said. “I learned everything from scratch.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Anthony Vo, who worked at Rufus Deering Lumber on Commercial Street in Portland for seven years, mulls his past and future as the company prepared to close Nov. 30.

Eldredge Lumber General Manager Dan Remick said the company lumberyard at 165 Presumpscot St. has plenty of room to expand after the purchase of Rufus Deering Lumber.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.