By Mary Lynch
Eagle Rock Lumber and Hardware, established in 1912, will close its doors for good on October 11. The closing marks the end of one of the oldest businesses in Northeast Los Angeles. Eagle Rock Lumber and Hardware has spanned three generations in three families. Along the way, it has helped to build Eagle Rock – literally – by providing lumber, hardware, advice and credit as the community has grown from approximately 600 people when the store first opened to nearly 30,000 today.
“It’s just time,” said owner Kevin Strauch, 78, explaining the closure in an interview with the Boulevard Sentinel. What Strauch went on to describe was a business whose longevity was based in large part on remarkably supportive business relationships – including tenant/landlord relationships – that are practically unheard of today.
For the first 48 years of its existence from 1912 to 1960, the “Eagle Rock Lumber Company” was owned and operated by the Swanson family of Eagle Rock. It was located on land the family owned at Yosemite Drive and Eagle Rock Boulevard, currently the Sprouts shopping center.
In 1960, the Swansons sold the property. (It was developed into the shopping center anchored back then by Sav-On drug store.) At the same time, the family planned to sell the lumber business to Jacob (Dep) Strauch and Lewis Shormann, employees of the store since the early 1950s.
Strauch and Shormann wanted to relocate the business to a lot at Fair Park Avenue and Eagle Rock Boulevard, across the street from where the Swanson’s Eagle Rock Lumber Company had been. But the lot, owned by Goldie Otters, was not for sale, nor could Strauch and Shormann have afforded to buy both the business and the lot.
To facilitate the sale of the business, the Swansons stepped in, entering into a 50-year lease with Otters for the land and a sublease with Strauch and Shormann. By 1963, Strauch and Shormann had reopened as Eagle Rock Lumber and Hardware. Dep Strauch retired in 1976 but kept his ownership share. In 1988, Strauch’s son, Kevin Strauch, bought out the Shormanns and has run the business ever since.
The lease/sublease agreement went smoothly for 46 years. But in 2006, when Otters died and the lease was transferred to a trust to benefit her favorite charities, Kevin Strauch was unable to work out a viable lease arrangement with the trustees. He thought the store would have to close.
But the neighbor adjacent to the lumber yard, the Solheim Senior Community, came to the rescue. Solheim bought the property from the trust, with the idea of eventually expanding their facility. In the meantime, Solheim offered Eagle Rock Lumber and Hardware favorable lease terms for three years to keep the site active. When the lease was up in 2009, Solheim was not ready to move forward with its expansion and so the lease has continued on a month to month basis since then.
“Solheim has treated me like family all these years,” Kevin Strauch said. He said he will miss the long and stable relationships that have kept the store going. He said he is proud of how the business has provided employment to Eagle Rock residents over the years, especially part-time work for young people. He also said he is proud of the tight ship he has run for several years as shopping habits have shifted away from small family-run retailers. On the downside, he said that worsening homelessness in the area has had adverse impacts on customer experience and other aspects of running the store and is a factor in his decision to close down.
He said he would give more thought to what to do in retirement after he has a chance to relax a while from being the boss.
For Kevin Strauch and for Eagle Rock, it is the end of one era and the beginning of another.
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